A Veritable Smorgasbord

November 28, 2012

Here at The King’s English, booksellers have been gathering and devouring the new fall books like squirrels gorging on nuts in preparation for winter. In the process we’ve gathered some wonderfully hearty treats for you and those you love, whether what piques your interest is fine fiction or picture books, espionage, humor or history.

Well-written fiction for the middle reader that steers clear of young-adult content is rare, and an author that is as smart and funny as Rebecca Stead is rarer still. Stead’s new novel, Liar & Spy, one of our booksellers first recommendations this season, was an instant New York Times bestseller. Like the dazzling Newbery Medal book When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy will keep readers guessing until the end. Creepy, gritty, edgy, disgusting, and fascinating—all words that describe book two of Ilsa Bick’s Ashes trilogy, Shadows. Bick is laying the groundwork for book three, drawing a picture of a dark and scary world in which readers will not find redemption or resolution (at least not until later) but will be engrossed (or is it grossed out?) by this fast-paced monster-filled novel. Daniel Handler, who also writes under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, has collaborated with acclaimed artist and designer Maira Kalman, to create an extraordinary book about an ordinary event: Why We Broke Up. In her new novel for middle readers, The Great Unexpectedby Sharon Creech, Lizzie and Naomi struggle to figure out their own relationship and how they fit into their families, into their community and Finn, a mysterious and charming boy, drops out of a tree and into their lives, while Mrs. Kavanaugh, who lives in the south of Ireland and loves a good murder, looks for revenge. Creech alternates these two seemingly disparate stories, throwing in a Dingle-Dangle Man, a crooked bridge, three mysterious trunks, and several rooks. Our list of picks for the middle readers and young adults wraps up with The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, and What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt.

And if amazing picture books are what you are in search of, look no further than This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen. Visual humor swims to the fore as the bestselling Klassen follows his fabulous first book, I Want My Hat Back, with another seriously funny tale. We did not think that Doreen Rappaport could ever write a better picture book than Martin’s Big Words until we read Helen’s Big World! In 48 pages, the reader receives an unforgettable picture of this American icon as the authors mix Keller quotes with biography and compelling artwork. Helen Keller’s lifelong courage and tenacity are celebrated in this amazing book. In this gentle and joyous board book with an environmental theme, Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell, Jules proves a hug is the simplest–but kindest–gift we can give. The Christmas Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska is a lovely little book that celebrates the hushed moments of a season that too often shouts. Like its bestselling companions The Quiet Book and The Loud Book, The Christmas Quiet Book is especially notable for its warm and lovely illustrations. (Plush toys available!)

And for the fiction-lover in your life, be prepared for treats beyond your wildest expectations. We are not exaggerating… Starting with a joyride of a read, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train follow the Queen, yes, of England, in current day, as she slips out of her royal residence in a hoodie and embarks on a truly entertaining excursion, bringing the reader along. And there’s a good reason The Round House, a novel by Louise Erdrich, won the National Book Award this year. Like all of Erdrich’s novels, The Round House taps into the history, the mythology, the collective wisdom of past generations, yet she is as concerned with the past’s connection to the present as she is with the tale’s action, and her lyrical investigations of life involve much more than immediate reality. Combine the ebullient erudition of Lawrence Norfolk’s Lempiere’s Dictionary with the sensory engagement and passion for food of John Lancaster’s infamous A Debt to Pleasure, stir in a soupçon of myth and history, and sprinkle liberally with the romance and narrative verve of The Night Circus and you’ll have some idea of Norfolk’s new confection of a novel, John Saturnall’s Feast. And Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a terrific read and a great reminder that books are here to stay…forever! Kevin Powers, a veteran of Iraq, has etched a powerful picture of reality in his new novel The Yellow Birds, and created a compelling awareness of what our military men and women have been subjected to for the past decade. And there are plenty of great novels published earlier in the year, including Canada by Richard Ford, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, and new in paperback fiction including The Marriage Plot, Salvage the Bones, What It Is Like to Go to War, American Dervish, To Be Sung Underwater, We the Animals AND State of Wonder. A plethora of delights!

If you’re still not sure what you want for your Aunt Sally or your 10-year-old niece, or for that plane ride you’re not looking forward to, we have a host of knowledgeable booksellers on hand who will not only recommend the right book, but also wrap it, mail it, or, if you’re doing your shopping by phone or e-mail, deliver it—the same day!

Roz Reads Celebrates 25 Years

October 11, 2012

We recently caught up with Roz Sandack who just celebrated her 25th year moderating her book club, Roz Reads! We’ve been happily associated with her for so many of those years and always look forward to seeing her and her book club members at The King’s English at the end of each month. This past September they read My Ántonia (again) because it was Roz’s inaugural book for her club.

TKE: Why My Ántonia?
Roz Sandack: My Ántonia was the first book I discussed with my book groups in September of 1987. It’s an important literary classic, one that many of us had to read in school as young people. It bears rereading again and is a marvelous discussion book.

TKE: What have been some of your favorite books over the years and why have they worked well in discussions?
Roz: Books for discussion need to have psychological depth and interesting ideas to explore. Occasionally, one of my readers will request that I include a “happy” book on my reading list. What’s to discuss in a happy book?

Some favorite discussion books:

TKE: Have there been any colossal flops?
Roz: Definitely evenings with lackluster discuss-ers and discussions that have tanked. I’m not sure what or who’s to blame. It just happens occasionally, and it doesn’t feel very good.

TKE: What is your secret ingredient for a successful meeting?
Roz: Here’s the formula: good book + preparation and enthusiasm (mine and the readers)= successful discussion. If every reader brings a question or comment to the group, everyone is much more involved in the discussion. Oh, and here’s another secret ingredient: listening. It’s important to listen to each other’s comments. Listening to others nurtures new ideas and that’s how we grow.

TKE: Do you have a funny story that you’d like to tell?
Roz: There are many hilarious moments, but probably the most surprisingly funny story is the time a group of close girlfriends hired me to discuss a book with them. I picked The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. They decided to watch the movie together instead of read the book, only the movie wasn’t based on the classic. It was a vampire thriller. Needless to say, the “reading” group unraveled pretty quickly.

Congrats Roz, and here’s to 25 more years of great books and great discussions!

Roz Reads October 2012 selection: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

You can catch up with Roz on her website or visit the Book Clubs page on TKE’s website for more information.

All That I Am by Anna Funder

February 2, 2012

by Betsy Burton

Once in a while a novel comes along that rocks your world. All That I Am rocked mine. I picked it up expecting a WWII thriller and in terms of suspense and believability it’s exactly that. But it’s also much more than just that. It begins in Berlin in the ‘20s. The glamorous and decadent Weimer Republic is in full swing, feminism is a proclaimed ideal, the left is on the ascendant, and their journalists skewer the nascent Nazi movement mercilessly. Hans is one such journalist. And when 18-year-old budding photographer Ruth Becker visits her cousin Dora, the three friends, Hans, Ruth, and Dora, work in tandem to secure the release of a political prisoner, Ernst Toller.

Wait a minute, Ernst Toller, I think. I know that name. Toller has a voice in the book, as do Ruth and Dora, and as I read on, as Toller meets Auden I’m sure I’ve remembered correctly. Toller was a famous intellectual, a poet and playwright, bitterly anti-fascist, friend of Auden, Erika Mann, and other  intellectuals of the time. And suddenly I’m not just reading a thriller. If Toller is real, then so, presumably, is Dora. And Ruth. And Hans.

I flip to the Afterword and it’s true—they were real. The action isn’t plot manipulation in an effort to create suspense. All of this actually happened. All at once I’m above as well as in the narrative, bearing witness. But why this reaction? I’ve read plenty of so-called  historical fiction before. What makes this seem so different?

The Nazis come to power and Toller is exiled. Dora, displaying breathtaking bravery, rescues his manuscript and his papers. Hans and Ruth are by now married and they, too, are ordered to leave. And so we get a picture of German émigrés who have fled to London in the early ‘30s and who are trying desperately to convince a disbelieving country—a disbelieving world—of the evils of Nazism, all three taking unbelievable risks to do so. In their respective voices we hear the boundless courage and determination of Dora, the deeply intellectual and as deeply depressed world view of Toller, the confusion and growing awareness of the observer, photographer Ruth, as she watches those she loves struggle with their fear and their inner demons, struggle with the closer and closer incursions of the Nazis on their London haven while the world remains willfully blind. What might, in a typical thriller, be predictable, becomes, in this slow, lethal unlayering of character, both inevitable and unbearable.

Perhaps herein lies the answer to my question about the difference between mere historical fiction and the act of bearing witness. Because bearing witness is more than just seeing—as Toller himself says, it is an act of imagination. One that creates understanding.  Funder has, in All That I Am, wrested four characters from history, in the process pulling us back and forth from their realities to their memories so convincingly that the reader knows all from the inside, is witness to what they bear, what they can no longer bear, and what it makes of them. Oh, suspense, suspicion, abound, but All That I Am is more than merely spellbinding. Like Hillary Mantel’s brilliant Wolf Hall, Funder’s new book is not just a novel or thriller, and is also far more than mere history. Because thanks to the characters she’s brought to life, and to the opportunity she’s granted us to bear witness to their lives, we understand our own in a different way, understand history in a new way.

Anna Funder is an Australian write who grew up in Melbourne and worked as an international lawyer and in public relations for a German overseas television service in Berlin. Her first book, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, won the UK’s most prestigious award for nonfiction, The Samuel Johnson Prize.

On February 7, this book is available for immediate download. CLICK HERE

Recently aired on KUER, 90.1 fm

Kid’s Books and Other Adventures

June 7, 2011

by Rachel Haisley

Mid Year’s Resolution: Join the 21st century by blogging more.

Instigated by a half dozen or so customers walking into the store and explaining they needed a book for their nine year-old and a trusted bookseller wasn’t there. Many requests were made for lists of recommendations.

After a good long thinking session, several trips to Caputo’s for pastrami sandwiches (a good pastrami is a rare find) I came up with many thoughts. Many were even relevant.

Relevant thoughts to my predicament:

  • Many people trust me with their children’s reading. Wow. (Insert inflated self-importance and a little Charlie Brown dance here). This doesn’t reflect anyone at the bookstore’s competence level; it just is a reminder that many customers have preferred booksellers they ask for. Take for example, Margaret’s following of first graders. Or the ladies who come in begging for Sally.
  • I have read enough books to make substantial lists for most age groups, but once the lists are made, I’ve totally blown all the reading I did the whole year and therefore may appear kind of silly when these elementary age superreaders come back for more ideas.

The solution? Blog posts. It might be easy to overlook the bookstore’s blog, but in a technological world; full of e-readers and Internet shopping, I’d like it to be a place people visit and use as a resource.

Here we go. My goal: to somewhat regularly post thoughts on children’s and YA books for readers, parents and booksellers to give advice, thoughts and recommendations (sometimes unsolicited) when I’m not in the store, to connect with readers on the Internet and keep loyal friends/customers (actually, you’re really all friends by now) coming back for more.

Let me introduce myself formally. My name is Rachel Haisley (or Rachel 2.0. There are two of us and sometimes it’s confusing) I’m a Judge graduate at the U who spends way too much time reading books aimed at eight year-old boys. I have a deep fondness for Captain Underpants and John Scieszka. Speaking of, the new Super Diaper Baby is coming out this month, featuring an anthropomorphic puddle of urine, a superhero baby (and his superhero dog) and some very good jokes about various normal bodily functions. This series is great for boys of all ages; but sometimes not so great for parents who have really had enough of fart jokes.

But I digress. Working in the Children’s Room has shown me how interesting instilling the value of reading can be. I watch an eighth grade girl who hates reading become a reader after a few paranormal romance novels. (Shiver, Nightshade, Wings, to name a couple off the top of my head). After months of trying to get a twelve year old boy, full of energy and adventure, to read kids’ fiction, (to absolutely no avail, a very frustrating part of bookselling) it suddenly struck me how boring all these middle reader books must seem to someone like him. I handed him The Wave, an adult nonfiction book about rogue waves, surfing, and climate change. Suddenly, he was absorbed; interested in a way I’d never seen him. I remembered what Margaret told me when I first started working at TKE two years ago; that boys do really well with nonfiction, they get bored with storylines and characters. Give them something real, something interesting, gross, different, and they love it.

For the most part, I don’t care what kids read, as long as they’re reading. I figure they’ll discover the classics once they’ve outgrown potty jokes or vampires. One memorable exception to this rule was a seventh grader who read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, an epic, beautifully crafted take on the French Revolution (12 and up. I was enthralled by it.) She came in asking for another, edgier book of the Donnelly’s, A Northern Light, a fascinating mystery taking place in the Adirondack Mountains during the beginning of the 20th century. However, this book has some graphic violence and sex. The girl in question had no idea what the book was even about, she’d just enjoyed Revolution and wanted to read the author’s other works. With a heavy sigh, I took her to the “Edgy” section of the store, where we keep young adult books that aren’t appropriate for the Children’s Room. Books are mostly relegated there for sex, violence, and language. Edgy lives by Speculative Fiction and Graphic Novels, in the corner of the Fiction Room. I like to think of it as a steppingstone for teens as they transition into reading more adult fiction.

Handing the girl the book, I explained she could look at it, but it was kind of scary and had a lot of very grown-up weird stuff. I told her she could look at it all she wanted, but I wouldn’t sell it to her.

I left her to peruse the book. She discovered that she really didn’t want the book, and bought something more age appropriate. Her mother stopped by the next day with cupcakes, thanking me profusely for doing something “no one at Barnes and Noble would ever do.”

Sometimes I do smart things. Other times, not so much.

I’m out. In the meantime I’m reading True Grit for my teen book club, which I shamelessly endorse. It’s 12 and up. I try to do a mix of teen and adult books to put kids out of their reading comfort zone and show them new things. We hang out in the mystery room and talk about literary themes, a novel’s relevance to real life, and sometimes school gossip. Parents are always welcome. See the website, or email me for more details. I also shamelessly endorse my summer reading group for young adults, where we do much of the same thing; only parents don’t get to join. Sorry guys.

Until next time,

The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection

March 5, 2010

The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection, Martin Page

Virgil is a Parisian cross between David Sedaris and Monk. In this world but not quite of this world he is nonplussed one evening when he returns home to hear his girlfriend breaking up with him via answering machine. But who is she? It’s a question only his friend Armelle (the lesbian erotic magazine model) and his shrink Dr. Zetkin can unravel. And does Virgil really want to know who she is? This laugh out loud paperback original will have you reading sections to friends and strangers alike. Penguin, $14

2009 Holiday Book Show on RadioWest

December 4, 2009

In this season of thanks and gift-giving…Whether it’s a $12 no-frills paperback or a lavishly illustrated $200 hardcover,
a book is, dollar for dollar, the best possible present for people of all ages and stages of life. Why? Because there is one
particular book that is perfect for practically everyone.

This was the topic on RadioWest yesterday. Our own Betsy Burton, along with Catherine Weller and Ken Sanders, joined Doug Fabrizio for the annual holiday book show on KUER. To see the books they recommended, or listen to the show, go to KUER: http://bit.ly/4UDuPp

Better still, go to our website, and download the 2009 Holiday Edition of The Inkslinger. You can scroll through a cast of characters—bibliophiles, naturalists, or outliers, for example—we’ve come to know and love until you spot your own friends and family members. You’ll find the perfect book(s) to match their passions listed by category. We also have printed copies available in the store, 12 pages crammed with fabulous books. This season is exceptionally rich in good books. Come pick up a copy!

On our shelves now

November 11, 2009
Museum of InnocenceThe new Orhan Pamuk novel, The Museum of Innocence (Knopf, $26.95) is recently released, and bookseller Sue Fleming loves it. Here’s what she has to say:
This, Pamuk’s first novel since receiving the Nobel Prize, is one that transcends man’s love for a woman. In 1975, in Istanbul, Kemal, 30, falls in love with a distant cousin, Fusun, then 18, though he is engaged to marry another. Both Kemal and his fiance come from the rich, privileged class and have come to terms with the current mores of love and sex according to Turkish values. He believes he can have both his future with his beautiful and educated wife as well as continue his extravagant affairs with Fusun. What follows is their tragic story, set among characters and places within Turkey. Kemal becomes a harder, a collector of obsession, and takes the reader through a museum dedicated to his love. A delicious and intriguing story.
And the New York Times is wondering which came first as they explore the ephemera Pamuk has been collecting for the museum.