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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2015/01/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , gravity's rainbow, , , , , , , reading resolutions, , , the gulag archipelago, the name of the rose, , , , , Uncategorized,   

    10 Books You Should Finally Read in 2015 

    Umberto Eco's The Name of the RoseLife’s not getting any easier—and neither are these books. While there’s nothing wrong with reading a brisk spy novel or a weepy romance or a horror novel you have to put in your freezer at night in order to be able to sleep, you know you’ve been avoiding certain novels your whole life. Time to put on your grownup pants and tackle these tomes—and here’s how to do it.

    Ulysses, by James Joyce

    Relax. Ulysses is challenging, but it’s not nearly as challenging as some of Joyce’s other works (did I hear someone scream “Finnegan’s Wake!” in the distance before bursting into tears?). The trick here is to stop trying to comprehend every specific reference to Dublin in 1904 and just get into the rhythm of it. In other words, don’t study Ulyssesread it.

    The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner

    The opening chapter of this novel is one of the hardest to crack in fiction, but the secret to The Sound and the Fury is in the fact that all the information you need to figure it out is right there in the story. The trick? Remember that if you take away the technical virtuosity and literary technique, what you have left is a rip-roaring soap opera about a family destroying itself.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

    The real challenge of Infinite Jest may be its gonzo science-fiction universe. With wheelchair-bound Québécois assassins, years named after consumer products, and women too beautiful to view safely in full daylight, Infinite Jest takes a while to acclimate to. The secret here is to view the book not as a heavy work of literary genius, but as a roiling comedy that uses its ridiculous setting and details to craft a series of darkly hilarious set pieces.

    Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville

    Moby-Dick has the distinction of being perhaps the most well-known novel no one has read. Its reputation for 19th-century density and complex language makes it fearsome. The trick to Moby-Dick? It is hilarious. There are more dirty jokes in this book than you can shake your peg-leg at (see what we did there), and the whaling stuff? Absolutely thrilling, once you get used to the rhythm of the language.

    In Search of Lost Time (aka, Remembrance of Things Past), by Marcel Proust

    Yes, In Search of Lost Time is easily the longest thing you’ve ever declined to read. What’s remarkable about it is the depth of the personal—you do get the sense of accompanying someone on a sense-memory exploration. The key here is simple: This book is about many things, but chief among them is sex. Start looking for the dirty bits, and before you know it you’ll be in the middle of volume three.

    The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    Rambling, complex, and filled with lengthy philosophical detours, this novel is pretty daunting. But rather than being a dour, endless novel, The Brothers Karamazov is a raucous tale of drunkenness, murder, and lust. The trick here is to stop trying to catch every detail and just enjoy the main stories: Mitya’s and Lyosha’s. If you understand what happens to them, everything else falls into place.

    Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

    It’s time. You’ve been avoiding Gravity’s Rainbow since you were a kid. You’ve been avoiding the endless symbolism, the encyclopedic puns, and the faint sense that Pynchon is pulling our legs. But this is a book you can’t dismiss unless you’ve read it, and it’s time. The trick—as with all of Pynchon’s work—is to stop thinking of the book as an awesome piece of serious literature and just enjoy it as a silly farce. This is, after all, a book that includes a bit about a man whose erections may predict rocket attacks on wartime London.

    The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    The language of this book even in translation isn’t complex, and the story it tells isn’t symbolic. The difficulty lies in the subject matter; it’s difficult to imagine that anyone could experience—and survive—what Solzhenitsyn and his fellow prisoners did. The trick here? Every time you finish a page, wiggle your toes inside your slippers and sip something nice and simply be happy it’s a book.

    The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

    When approaching this book nervously, from an angle, you’ll hear some fairly alarming terms, like semiotics or deliberate mistranslation. Fear not! The trick with this admittedly dense and fascinating novel is simple: It’s a murder mystery. Let everything else hit you subliminally, and just concentrate on enjoying the story at its most primal level.

    Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

    Cloud Atlas has the difficult novel trifecta: A shattered timeline, an invented patois, and a story involving several sets of characters in completely different time periods. The trick with Cloud Atlas is that it’s like reading seven novels all at once. There is a theme, and a point, but ultimately what this means is that if you’re confused or bored or mildly alarmed by what you’re reading, just muddle through—a new story will begin shortly.

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2014/12/31 Permalink
    Tags: a long way down, amor towles, , George Eliot, , , , middlemarch, , rules of civility, Uncategorized, white teeth,   

    Our Favorite Books Set on New Year’s Eve (and Day) 

    Amor Towles' The Rules of CivilityHumans are a funny lot; we invent a totally random way of keeping track of our existence, then assign special significance to certain days, and proceed to do things like go to war over disagreements on which days are especially significant. For most people, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are natural moments for contemplation and resolution—or nursing hangovers—which is why they are also great days to read books. When trying to decide what goals to set for yourself in the coming year, a good book can give you examples of what to do—or what not to do, depending on the book.

    Here then, are five books set on and around New Year’s eve that just might have something to teach you—but will definitely entertain you.

    Middlemarch, by George Eliot

    Only a small portion of this classic piece of literature takes place on New Year’s—but any excuse to pick up this amazing novel is a good excuse. The New Year’s Day portion is a great scene filled with Eliot’s typically sharp observations of her fellow human beings. The party thrown by the Vincys is superficially cheerful and jolly, but tensions roil just underneath the surface, as observed by the smart and good-hearted vicar Mr. Farebrother. This is a great scene to read in preparation for heading out to a New Year’s bash.

    White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

    Smith’s insanely creative book begins on New Year’s Day and explores, among many other finely woven themes, how chance affects our lives. When Archie Jones changes his mind about an attempted suicide and finds his way to the dregs of a New Year’s Eve party, where he meets his future wife, it’s just the first of many ways the book celebrates how our decisions conspire to surprise us—and the story circles around to a later New Year’s to underscore the point. Read this book before making your resolutions, to remind yourself that you never know what 2015 might throw at you.

    Rules of Civilty, by Amor Towles

    This under-appreciated first novel is a brilliant, energetic story set in a Manhattan that no longer exists. With a strong female character at its center, Rules of Civilty presents a mystery that starts at a New Year’s celebration between the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, but it’s really a celebration of the energy of New York and the thrill of suddenly seeing someone or something you haven’t seen in decades, bringing back a flood of memories. It also contains the world-beating line, “That’s the problem with being born in New York…you’ve got no New York to run away to.” Read this book if you’re feeling a bit settled and wonder if you could use an adventure in the New Year.

    Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding

    Let’s not dismiss this book—it’s a modern classic of its genre, and it’s easy to forget what a phenomenon it was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s also a book that begins on New Year’s Day and dives enthusiastically into one of the great inner monologues of modern literature, as Bridget worries, records, and contemplates the proper method of making and keeping resolutions almost from the book’s very first moment. Read it if you’re worried about breaking your New Year’s resolutions—it will remind that ultimately it probably doesn’t matter, as long as you enjoy the debacle.

    A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby

    Any book that opens with its four main characters accidentally choosing the same roof to jump from on New Year’s Eve is a book that really ought to be read every New Year’s Eve, possibly out loud as a new kind of holiday tradition. And since it’s a book by Nick Hornby, it’s also hilarious and satisfyingly plotted, as these people decide to postpone their suicide and the story unfolds unexpectedly from there. Read this any time you think your New Year’s experience is subpar; you’ll feel better.

    What’s your favorite book to read at the end (or start) of the year?

     
  • Dahlia Adler 5:35 pm on 2014/12/23 Permalink
    Tags: , amy finnegan, , , , julie cross, kasie west, liz czukas, , paula stokes, , , Uncategorized, ,   

    The Best Contemporary YA Romance of 2014 

    Stephanie Perkins' Isla and the Happily Ever AfterConfession: contemporary young adult romance has the most special place in my heart of all YA genres. It encompasses so much of what I love about reading (and writing) young adult as a whole—all the experiences of “firsts” and all the ups and downs that come with them. Some of them are sweet, some are steamy, some are intense, and some are hilarious, but what all the good ones have in common is the butterfly-inducing magic that cannot be denied.

    Isla and the Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins
    It was a long wait for the final book in Perkins’ trilogy of romances, but well worth it. Passionate, artsy Isla has had a crush on Josh for years, but it takes a Vicodin-induced semi-stupor to get them together. Once she learns the feelings are mutual, it’s full speed ahead into exactly the kind of all-consuming, enchanting romance no one does better than Perkins. Dramatic, engaging, and surprisingly sexy, this was a most satisfying conclusion to one of contemporary YA’s most popular series.

    Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour
    To be honest, LaCour’s grocery lists could probably make any post I write at this point—she’s just that good. This book is full of beauty: in the screenwritten vignettes, in main character Emi’s passion for set design, in the way Emi views enigmatic and struggling love interest Ava, and in LaCour’s writing in general. Those looking for LGBTQ YA romance sans coming-out angst particularly need to put this story about two already-“out” girls falling in love at the top of their shopping lists, but this is an all-around great read for any fan of YA and/or romance and/or books in general, really.

    Open Road Summer, by Emery Lord
    Reagan needs some time away, and there’s no better way to get it than by accompanying her country star BFF, Dee, on a national tour. But she doesn’t expect the perks that come along with it, in the form of the talented and adorable Matt Finch. Matt is that rare YA love interest who places a strong emphasis on friends and family, and makes a fabulous sweetheart counterpoint to Reagan’s thorniness. His songwriting skills don’t hurt one bit, either.

    The Art of Lainey, by Paula Stokes
    Soccer star and general has-it-all girl Lainey Mitchell has a pretty awesome high school life going, until her long-term boyfriend dumps her out of nowhere. Lainey isn’t the type to take it lying down, so armed with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and an excellent best friend, she sets out with a plan to win him back. In this case, the plan involves mohawk-sporting, similarly-broken-heart-suffering coworker Micah, and a fauxmance intended to win both of their exes back. But it turns out the only romance worth fighting for is the one sparking between them, and watching them figure that out is oh-so-delightful.

    Whatever Life Throws at You, by Julie Cross
    Annie Lucas knows baseball—her father is the brand-new pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. Jason Brody is baseball—the sexy new Royals’ rookie with a heartbreaker reputation to spare. There are so many reasons they need to keep their distance, but none of those compete with the chemistry they share. There’s something about sports-themed romances that just make them that much more swoon-inducing when done well. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of testosterone around, or maybe it’s just the baseball pants, but when it’s good, it just works, and it’s definitely good here. (Bonus points to Cross for all the frank sex talk, far too rare between partners in YA.)

    Ask Again Later, by Liz Czukas
    Heart LaCoeur has a ridiculous name and a ridiculous problem: two dates for one prom, neither of whom she’s interested in. Alternating timelines show the night playing out with each, but don’t be fooled by the premise—Czukas’ debut otherwise reads completely contemporary, and the romantic ending is beyond satisfying. It’s also charming, funny, and real, and one of my favorite recs for when you just need something to put you in a good mood, ASAP. (Which is also true of Czukas’ unrelated follow-up, Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless.)

    Not in the Script, by Amy Finnegan
    Emma Taylor’s been in Hollywood too long to believe there’s potential for true love there…until she meets her new costar, Jake Elliott. Jake is sweet, thoughtful, hot, and family-oriented, and the slow burn romance in this book is completely and wholly earned in the best way. Those who love the healthy pacing and fully fleshed development in books like My Life Next Door are sure to adore this one, and those looking for Hollywood YA with a heavy emphasis on insider Hollywood would do well to pick this one up, too.

    On the Fence, by Kasie West
    A truly adorable book about a girl named Charlie who’s surrounded by testosterone and starts to find her feminine side while falling for the boy next door. West stole my heart with her first contemporary YA romance, The Distance Between Us, and though this cute, fun summer read feels a little more light and predictable (as the friends-to-lovers trope tends to be), I loved the family dynamics even more. Most importantly, West holds up as one of the queens of romantic YA banter, which ensures I’ll be buying all her contemporary romances from here on out.

     
  • Ryan Britt 5:00 pm on 2014/12/16 Permalink
    Tags: adam wilson shelly oria, ann vandermeer, , justin taylor, , neil clarke, , octavia butler, , , , , Uncategorized   

    Short Stories to Stuff Your Stockings: 9 of 2014’s Most Giftable Collections and Anthologies 

    The Time Traveler's AlmanacGift-giving can come with a lot of commitment issues. If you buy a novel for a certain someone and they “just can’t get into it,” it’s like you failed as a person who buys books as presents. However, short stories don’t have quite that same threat, because even if the person doesn’t love ALL the stories in a collection or anthology, they’re bound to like a few. Here’s a list of 9 short story collections or anthologies published in 2014 to help you hedge your holiday book-buying bets.

    Flings, by Justin Taylor
    You ready for short stories about guys in mushroom costumes, struggling poets, and Ph.D students? Of course you are. With his usual brand of smarty-pants wit, Justin Taylor has done something you wouldn’t think possible: topped his debut short story collection, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. A perfect gift for someone who thinks they don’t like reading short stories, or reading period. Meanwhile, if your giftee already loves good contemporary lit, Taylor is one of the masters.

    New York 1 Tel Aviv 0, by Shelly Oria
    If you’re not sure what the immigrant experience is like or the bisexual experience is like or the human experience is like, these stories have you covered. Shelly Oria’s prose is as addictive as her occasionally jokey epiphanies. The stories in this collection often come across as being orderly little lessons about what its like to be a person, and that’s exactly what they are. This is the perfect gift for someone who experiments with the truth of their life and finds something beautiful or sad every time they do. Essentially, give this book to your best friend for the holidays if you want to keep them. Give this book to a friend you’ve lost if you want them back.

    Unexpected Stories, by Octavia Butler
    If you’ve only read Octavia Butler’s excellent time-travel novel Kindred, that’s okay, but if you’re looking for a gift for someone who loves genre-straddling stories by a master of both science fiction and literature, then this is the one. Collecting Butler’s short fiction into one volume is a smart enough idea, but this one is made even more special because it includes unpublished material, specifically her story “Childfinder,” which sci-fi raconteur Harlan Ellison asked her to write for his unpublished The Last Dangerous Visions.

    What’s Important is Feeling, by Adam Wilson
    Featuring a weird rock band, a lobster, and impressively deft explorations of male friendship, Adam Wilson’s What’s Important is Feeling is a great gift for your grouchy brother who’s always complaining about everything. Either that, or your friend who always wears a bandanna and tells everyone she’s creating new kinds of art with colors that haven’t yet been invented. Not a book for your mom. Unless your mom was once like those people or any of the characters in this book. In which case: perfect.

    Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood
    Is it even fair how talented Margaret Atwood is? How does she possibly put out as many books as she has? If you’re looking to buy a book of stories for someone who’s an Atwood completist, then you’re in good shape. Or maybe you’re looking to get someone into her work without overwhelming them with the complexity of the Maddaddam trilogy. If so, these stories represent Atwood’s bananas creativity coupled with her excellent sense of humanity. Really, though, if you have any friends who are mistaken for vampires for whatever reason, this is the gift for them.

    The Time Traveler’s Almanac, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
    There’s no one who doesn’t like stories about time travel. Except maybe actual time travelers. If you’ve got a Doctor Who–obsessed person in your life and you need to give them a gift that will totally educate them on the best short-fiction explorations of time travel, this new anthology from fantastic sci-fi editor Ann VanderMeer is the ticket. The thing is, because it’s all about time travel, you need to make sure your prospective present-getter hasn’t already read it…in the future.

    American Innovations, by Rivka Galchen
    Deceptively casual is the only way to describe the tone of the stories in American Innovation. If you’re buying a gift for someone who everyone thinks is an evil genius, you may want to consider this book. Everybody says certain kinds of stories are heartbreaking, but these ones really are, but subtly. So maybe they’re not heartbreaking, but instead, heart-fracturing? Galtchen’s subtlety is definitely for the literati, but a particularly introspective non-literary person would love these tales, too.

    Redeployment, by Phil Klay
    You heard this won the National Book Award, right? Do you buy this for the veteran in your life? Yes. Do you buy it for the literary snob in your life? Yes. Do you buy it for your landlord, your postman, or your former high school teacher? Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Clarkesworld Year 6, edited by Neil Clarke 
    There’s a lot of great science fiction being published online these days, but Neil Clarke over at Clarkesworld always manages to put out a physical version of all the best stuff he’s championed in a given year. If you’ve got a budding sci-fi/fantasy writer who needs some inspiration this holiday season, any of the Clarkesworld anthologies are a surefire win.

     
  • Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick 4:00 pm on 2014/12/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , Uncategorized,   

    10 Bookish Gifts for Your Favorite College Kids 

    Moleskine Voyageur NotebookThe holiday season is here again, and while most of our friends are asking for new gadgets and designer gear, we college-aged book lovers are writing a slightly different Christmas list. Sure, we all love a new iPad, but when it comes down to it all we really want is something reading-related. This can make shopping for us a little bit tricky for our family and friends who aren’t literary fanatics, but never fear! I’m here to help make your book-themed Christmas list simple. Here are some awesome gift ideas for the collegiate book nerd, whether that’s you or someone you know. As someone who spent five years of her undergrad and graduate career pretty much exclusively reading and talking about books, I can say I would have been crazy excited to receive any of these (and still would be, in case anyone is looking for a last-minute present for me).

    Moleskine Voyageur Traveller’s Nutmeg Brown Hardcover Notebook
    The perfect gift for anyone getting ready to study abroad. It has spaces for tickets, maps, and itineraries (aka, the things most important to your trip and the things most likely to get lost), as well as pages for you to write. So if you’re sitting under the Eiffel Tower or looking out a train window at the Tuscan countryside and start to feel inspired, you have a place to jot down your thoughts. Plus, there’s just something about a Moleskine notebook that makes you feel like a real writer.

    Jeff Fisher Lincoln/Erasmus Quotes Tote
    When it comes to expressing your love of books while on the go, let your bag do your talking. This tote is perfect for hauling your stuff to and from class. Plus, it lets the world know exactly what type of person you’re interested in: the kind that will give you more books.

    Pen is Mightier Than the Sword Resin Pen Cup
    It’s no real contest between the two, is it? We know the pen wins every time! So keep your favorite battle gear sheathed in this awesome pen cup. Putting it on your desk sends a pretty clear message: don’t mess with me, because I have a pen and I know how to use it.

    Doctor Who Clip-on TARDIS Book Light with UV Pen
    Raise your hand it you’re not a Doctor Who fan. To the one person who raised their hand: you can show yourself out now. For all us normal people who are are dangerously obsessed with the Doctor, let’s talk about this beautiful marriage of two of the best things in the world: Doctor Who and reading. You’ll never have to worry about keeping your roommate up while you finish “just one last chapter” ever again. Instead, just use this adorable Tardis reading light and read for as long as you want!

    Scholar Composition Book Folio Case for iPad
    Technology is great and helpful and the internet is not just a passing fad, despite my father’s continued insistence. But sometimes you want to kick it old school (or, more specifically, middle school). Combine your bygone school-days method of writing notes in your black-and-white composition book with your new tech-savvy style of taking down information with this awesome iPad case.

    642 Things to Write About Journal
    Every aspiring novelist/poet knows the feeling: you want to write, but you don’t know what to write about. This journal is full of prompts to get your creative juices flowing and provide some much-needed inspiration. Who knows, these fun exercises might just turn into the seeds of the next great American novel!

    Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck
    One of the most important lessons you learn in college happens outside the classroom and inside the kitchen. Unless you’re living exclusively on dining hall meals and takeout (ew), you should probably learn a few go-to recipes. Thug Kitchen gives you easy ways to incorporate veggies into your diet and step up your cooking game. As they say, “Sh*t is about to get real.”

    Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, by Tim Federle
    This one’s for the college student 21 and over, of course, so all you underage folks will have to wait a bit for this one. But for the legal crowd: are you a fan of cocktails but wish they could be more literary? Learn how to make such classics as the title’s “Tequila Mockingbird” or “The Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose.” Because who doesn’t love alcohol and book puns?

    Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler
    Everyone tries to give you life advice when you’re in college, but Amy Poehler is one of the few people you might actually want to listen to. Combine her fabulous new book with copies of books by fellow funny ladies Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling for a real trifecta.

    Game of Thrones 5-Book Boxed Set (A Song of Ice and Fire series), by George R.R. Martin
    We know you have a ton of reading to do for school, but sometimes it’s nice to take a break and fit some pleasure reading into your busy schedule. Relax with a boxed set of your favorite new series, like the uber popular Song of Ice and Fire series. Nothing will take your mind off your upcoming paper faster than the saga of the Starks. If you were really good this year, maybe you’ll even get a couple seasons of the hit TV show to go with it.

    What are you giving to the college kid in your life?

     
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