Where are you going Bernadette and what are they going to do to you? Or, when a beloved book goes Hollywood.

As an article of faith I assume that there are people (perhaps many), somewhere (perhaps all around), who receive the news that a favorite book is being adapted into a movie or miniseries with unconditional enthusiasm.

I know that there are many people who react to the same news with the approximate response “I wonder how they’re going to screw it up” in a tone suggesting an emotional state falling somewhere between “resigned defeat” and “visible contempt”. In the pie chart representing typical reactions to this type of announcement, this piece would resemble Pac-Man .

It’s easy to understand why. Hollywood has a long tradition of exsanguinating beloved, worthy books. If it’s a book we personally love, we carry the memory of that botched adaptation around like a scorned lover. We may stop actively resenting it, but we never forget it.

bernadette

This week brought the announcement that Richard Linklater is in talks to direct the movie version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette, one of my favorite reads of the last few years. Judging by the responses of every one of the many, many people to whom I’ve recommended or given Bernadette, they share my adoration for Maria Semple’s heartfelt comic gem.

While this was the first I’d heard of Bernadette being adapted for the screen, the news of Linklater’s involvement was encouraging. His filmography exhibits all the right tools to capture what makes Bernadette special—Dazed & Confused: adolescence and the humor within the high stakes of low drama; School of Rock: high-energy, antic set pieces; the Before trilogy: nuanced and difficult emotional truths and sharp dialogue.

Linklater seems like a perfect choice to make a Bernadette adaptation worthy of the source material, one that accurately transmutes the blend of wits, smarts and heart in Semple’s written work into light and sound.

There are good reasons why movies are rarely as good as the books from which they’re adapted. My feelings toward adaptation announcements are typically captured in the Pac-Man slice of the aforementioned pie chart. But I suppose the right creative team or talent attached can slide me into the much narrower slice of “open-minded anticipation”. That’s how I feel about Bernadette the movie based on this week’s news.

It goes the other way, too. A bad adaptation can be a thief that steals our fond memories or an unwanted guest that forever intrudes upon an otherwise beloved family picture. Aside from very rare exceptions, the best case scenario for the movie is to capture the correct tone, hit the right emotional notes (regardless of how much it deviates from the book’s various plot points) and become a reflection of the affection we feel for the book.

Don’t mess it up, Linklater. We’ll remember and likely hold it against you.

***

mosquitolandNext Tuesday the most “Bernadette” book I’ve read since reading Bernadette nearly three years ago hits the shelves. Mosquitoland, by David Arnold, is the story of Mary Iris “Mim” Malone, a teenager abruptly pulled from her home life in northern Ohio and relocated with her father and new stepmother to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, aka “Mosquitoland”.  When the regular letters from her mother back in Ohio stop coming, Mim decides to get back home and find out the truth about what’s going on with her mom and her family’s sudden split. With her step mother’s secret emergency fund purloined and in Mim’s backpack with a hastily assembled collection of belongings, Mim sets off cross country to get home.

Mim’s adventures on the road are harrowing (maybe even too harrowing for some YA readers), humorous, tense and tender. After a rollicking road adventure, Arnold brings the story to a satisfying, if not entirely plausible, end.

While Mosquitoland is a YA novel, I found it very similar in tone and wit and emotional payoff to Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Both are whip-smart, emotionally true and feature irresistibly charming narrators. In Mim Malone, David Arnold has created one of the most fully-realized teenage protagonists I’ve read. Sharp as a shard of glass and just as messy and dangerous to herself because of her limited experience, Mim is all set jaw, raised eyebrow and fidgety fingers.  Arnold’s heroine is the perfect exemplar of the fear-tinged bravado and disaffected posture of the teenager hungering to find their people, those who truly understand them.

Don’t be scared off by the YA label:  Mosquitoland is for anyone of any age who’s ever felt this hunger.

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The joys of proper winter weather preparation

I hate the cold. Hate it. H-A-T-E.

The only thing I hate more than the cold is its terrible offspring, Winter Weather. Winter Weather is the unruly—and unwelcome—toddler that makes everything worse: it makes a terrible mess, holds you hostage and leaves you in a constantly unnerved state, worrying something important is going to get broken.

I hate winter weather.

Though I’d be content to never see snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain—your winter whatnot—again I have to admit that the last two iced-in, homebound days were glorious. I couldn’t work and couldn’t go anywhere.   And I was prepared, stocked up on the essentials: books. And some food, but, most importantly, plenty of books.   Truthfully, if I had a supply of books as good as the two I read these past two days, I could have effortlessly outlasted Jack Torrance at the Overlook Hotel.  

find meFind Me, by Laura van den Berg

released 2/17/15

Joy Jones was abandoned in a cardboard box on the steps of a hospital on a winter day as a one month-old. In the 20 years since, she bounced from foster homes to group homes and back again. She spends her days as a part-time cashier at a Stop-n-Shop and a full-time cough syrup addict. When an epidemic hits that starts by slowly eroding victims’ memories, then moves to producing scaly silver sores on their bodies and, then, to swift but painful death, Joy finally catches a break in life: she’s seemingly immune. She’s invited to join others who are immune at a secured hospital in Kansas for a mandated 10 month stay, during which time doctors run tests on them in hopes of finding a cure. But the tests hardly seem medical in nature and the supposedly immune patients keep dying from the disease.

During her stay, Joy stumbles upon the identity of her mother. Possibly. Tracking down and meeting her becomes Joy’s focus. After news that the outbreak may be over, Joy decides to leave an increasingly chaotic and aimless hospital.

I won’t spoil Find Me by providing additional plot details, but I will say that it is fantastic, unexpected in all the best ways. Unsettling and strange, it frequently had me feeling untethered. Were the events actually happening or were they just part of Joy’s cough syrup-addled—or disease-impaired—memories? Van der Berg’s writing is assured, commanding, propulsive. She plays with the concept of memory and how it consists of, essentially, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Van de Berg treats time like a taffy pull, leaving the reader always on less than solid footing. The effect is vertiginous.

Find Me is a Murakami-like fever dream that questions the boundaries, limits and meanings of personal memory and the implications of a population that loses the ability to remember.

head full of ghostsA Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul G. Tremblay

available June 2015

This one’s not out for a while, but you can be assured you’ll be hearing more from me about it. Maybe soon because—oh boy—this is a gooooood one. I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun reading a book.

On the surface, A Head Full of Ghosts is a horror novel about 14-year old Marjorie Barrett who is either a troubled teen or possessed by a demonic spirit. At the end of their rope, both emotionally and financially, the Barretts agree to have TLC film a reality show about their daughter’s possession and exorcism.

A Head Full of Ghosts is clever, creepy, and inscrutable. Most of all, though, it is so, so smart. Paul Tremblay brings a piercing, original point of view to his novel, creating a story that has a subtext even more terrifying than the gripping, leave-the-light-on horror tale.

More on A Head Full of Ghosts later.

With books this good, I’d welcome a return engagement from Winter Weather. I’ve got plenty more books I’m excited about…and am keeping my fingers crossed for more snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain…winter whatnot.   Friday looks promising.

Be prepared. Your friendly neighborhood booksellers at Booksellers can help make sure you’re well-stocked and ready to not want to leave your house.

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Love for sale

Yesterday, leading tear manufacturer and reigning king of YA John Green delivered the keynote address at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute 10 conference in Asheville, NC. Green used his talk to booksellers attending in person and via the live webcast to praise independent bookstores and their employees. “We’d [authors would] suck without you,” said Green. He then zeroed in on something special about indie booksellers: “Part of what you’re selling is your passion and expertise. You cannot buy that and you cannot replicate that. We’re not in the widget business; we’re in the stories business.”

Recently, I’ve been in an ongoing a conversation via email with Booksellers’ representative from Harper Collins about a new book they’re publishing that we both adore: The Country of Ice ice cream starCream Star, by Sandra Newman (see review below).  Despite technically being in the ever-swelling “post-apocalyptic” literary fiction sub-genre, what makes the book so remarkable…so affecting and so memorable…is what makes it a difficult hand-sell to customers.

Many novels, especially those that become best-sellers, come with an easy-to-grasp hook. Current hot seller, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, came with buzz and comparisons to Gone Girl. Despite it not really being anything thematically like Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train is twisty and thrilling and scratches a very similar reading itch as Gillian Flynn’s twisty thriller.  While not a comparison I would make personally, it’s not unfair and, more importantly, it’s very effective for selling the book. It is important to note that scores of books have tried to compare themselves to Gone Girl since it became a publishing phenomenon. The Girl on the Train’s success is not because of the marketing (or not just because of it), but because the book is a brisk, harrowing, at times excruciating, page-turner. The Gone Girl analog gets people to try it. Hawkins book is a best-seller because people like it and are telling others about it.

This brings me back to The Country of Ice Cream Star, a book I loved as much as any I’ve read recently. Other books have engaged me more mentally or cut me deeper emotionally, but I can’t think of a book I’ve read recently I loved like Ice Cream Star. The further I’ve gotten away from the experience of reading it, my fondness for it has only grown.  Unlike The (Gone) Girl on the Train, Ice Cream Star lacks any easy-to-grasp button to hook a potential reader. It’s post-apocalyptic, sure, but I think after the raft of recent titles treading over that terrain it could be as much a hindrance as a selling-point. Also, the setting isn’t really what makes it so special. The writing—its lyricism, its originality, its thrilling audacity—is what sets Ice Cream Star apart.

This is challenging for a bookseller. Without any pre-existing short-hand comparison, how do I do it justice when talking about it to customers? How does one explain what delight smells like or how wonder sounds or the feeling of taking a defibrillator to long-dormant pleasure centers in the mind? Words can prove inadequate or too imprecise to do it justice with economy or accuracy.

When discussing this with our Harper Collins rep, I suggested that, in many ways, love for Ice Cream Star will be its main selling point. What makes it special has to be experienced. In many ways, its magic has to be earned. My passion for the book—as well as the passion of my coworkers who have or will read it—and my reading experience will mostly be what convinces Booksellers customers to try The Country of Ice Cream Star. For the right readers, I couldn’t recommend it more. I love this book.

John Green is so right: we’re not in the widget business. We’re in the business of stories. Sometimes, when we come across that special book, we even have love for sale.

* * *

Review: The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman

One of my absolutely favorite books of recent years is finally hitting the streets and lovers of language and literary fiction should be excited. The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman is nothing short of epic, both in narrative scope and literary achievement.

So much of the the joy of Ice Cream Star lies in the act of discovery: of the completely foreign, but not-too-distant future in which it takes place and of the language in which Ice Cream Star, the 15 year old young woman who’s the book’s narrator, sets down her story. The world Newman creates is original, richly detailed, and compellingly realized, down to the Pidgen English patois that the story is told in.

From the get-go, Newman drops us into Ice Cream Star’s world in media res. This is Ice Cream Star’s reality and Newman, to her credit, trusts her readers enough not to contort her story to hold our hands. She deftly brings readers along, threading details into the story so we slowly begin to piece together what happened and establish an operational framework for this world. Then, just when you think you have a handle on the book’s human and social landscape, the world opens up in surprising, delightful ways.

While the world-building that Newman does here is remarkable, Margaret Atwood-caliber stuff, what elevates and separates Ice Cream Star from other post-apocalyptic literary fiction is the language.

The strange and deceptively simple language Newman created makes the book a bit of a challenge to get immediately immersed in. But it is entirely worth the effort. The story grabs you from the start and the plot moves swiftly, carrying you along until you get adjusted. Once accustomed to the language, I found it a slyly effective way to incisively and humorously (and often beautifully) take a sideways angle to cut through absurdities of human relations, American institutions and societal norms. By the end, I’d grown to love the language and voice and character of Ice Cream Star: a hickory stick with a poet’s radiant heart.

At turns violent, romantic, funny and touching, The Country of Ice Cream Star wraps an exploration of power, American institutions, race and human nature into a ripping, twisting, turning epic.

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An incomplete list of absolutely NOT dumb questions to ask a bookseller

While some operate under the assumption that working at a bookstore largely consists of keeping one’s nose in a book, setting it down (open, face-down, as a return to reading is imminent) occasionally to ring up a customer purchase and, perhaps, shelve a book or two, the truth is we spend much of our day answering questions posed by you, our customers. Many of those questions are presented almost apologetically, with the implied preface “I recognize this may be a dumb question, but…” Others are more direct, preemptively begging pardon with a preamble along the lines of, “this may be a really stupid question, but…”

I’m here to set your mind at ease.

Wait…what? No. Oh no no no. I’m not here to comfort you with the reassurance that there are no dumb questions to ask a bookseller. There are. For sure. But we get them rarely enough that its best you not even concern yourself with them. You’re not the one asking them.

No. I’m here to provide an incomplete list of common, absolutely, 100% NOT dumb questions for a bookseller.

  1. “Can you help me find [book title]?”

Well of course I will! It’s kind of one of the main reasons I’m here. While finding a book by William Faulkner is relatively easy (look in Fiction under “F”), some items are trickier than others and different bookstores sort some titles differently. Most importantly, sometimes books aren’t where they’re supposed to be. We know the tricks of where they might be hiding. Don’t worry about asking us to do our jobs. We’re book hunters as well as booksellers.

  1. “Where’s the [fill-in-the-blank] section of the store?”

While Booksellers has some rather large section signs hanging from the ceiling than will help you locate most subject areas, and possibly leave you feeling sheepish once they’re pointed out to you, not every section or sub-section has visible-from-a-distance signage. Even if you reviewed each section sign, it is utterly reasonable that you may not be able to intuit where something might be located. We can help you find it. Heck, if you want a tour of the whole store, we’ll give you one. We’re bookstore docents as well as book hunters and booksellers.

  1. “Where would I find books on [fill-in-the-blank]?”

The subject signage and basic inductive reasoning can usually provide you with all you need to find where books in your interest area are located. You may not want to or have the time to perform this guesswork. So just ask. Furthermore, book classification can be a judgment call and can vary from store to store. Are, for example, diabetic cookbooks in the Cooking section or the Diet section? At Booksellers, they are actually in neither. They’re in the Health section under “specific health conditions”. Honestly, not even every bookseller knows this. There’s no way we expect you to easily find them. Lastly, we don’t have books on every possible topic. We can help you research available titles and order you something that meets your needs. So, please, ask us. We’re book taxonomists, as well as bookstore docents, book hunters and booksellers.

  1. “I need to get something for my child [grandchild, etc.] to read and I don’t have a clue as to what. Can you help?”

We love this question! We are thrilled to do anything we can to encourage others, especially children, to read. If we can put a book that your child will love into his or her hands, s/he will associate reading with pleasure and want to read more. We have booksellers who are experts in children and young adult books. All of us have varying levels of knowledge about what kids read and enjoy, but we’re all willing and capable of providing at least some direction. To one degree or another, we’re all book polymaths, as well as book taxonomists, bookstore docents, book hunters and booksellers.

  1. I’m looking for something good to read. Any suggestions?

This may be our favorite question of all. Most booksellers are booksellers because they love books. They’re great to hold and look at on a shelf and to smell. But they’re best for reading. We read. But as much as we may love to read and as much time as we may spend reading, we can’t read everything. I may not read the types of books that you like to read, but there’s a very good chance someone I work with does. And, if not, we also talk to our customers and know what they like. If you tell us a few books that you have liked, one of us can triangulate some good recommendations for you. One request: please, whenever you like, share with us your feedback on books, especially those we helped you select. Our recommendations are built upon the information we have. The more information you provide, the better we’ll be at finding you more books you’ll love. So tell us about what you’ve liked and ask for suggestions. We’re book curators, as well as book polymaths, book taxonomists, bookstore docents, book hunters and booksellers.

  1. “I’m looking for this book, but don’t know the author…or the title…but I read a review of it recently…no, I don’t know where I read the review…but it’s a new book (I think) and it’s about a guy who does [a thing] in [a place].”

Obviously, the more information we have, the better chance we have of finding you the book you’re looking for. But even if you have almost no information, go ahead and ask. If it’s a book that people and/or the media are talking about, we’ll possibly recognize it from even the vaguest of description. If not, we’re well-practiced in asking the right questions and using our full complement of tools to identify the book you’re looking for. We can’t always pinpoint the exact title you’re looking for, but you’d be surprised how often we can. After all, we’re more than booksellers…

…in the realm of books, we’re magicians.

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A nap, a blanket and a hot beverage: preparing yourself to read Descent, by Tim Johnston

As a service to readers, I’m encouraging you to clear some time from your work- and parenting- and social- and housekeeping- and volunteering- and life-filled schedule to get a substantial nap in before picking up Tim Johnston’s new literary thriller, Descent. It’ll likely keep you up, turning pages and invoking the book lover’s late night solemn vow of “just one more chapter.”

(Note: On Thursday, January 22, author Tim Johnston will be appearing at Story Booth [in Crosstown Arts, 438 N. Cleveland] at 6:00 p.m. for Booksellers’ first Literary Tastemakers event of 2015, where he will be reading from Descent, answering questions and signing his gripping new book.)

As a high school graduation present for their daughter, Caitlin, the recipient of a track scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, the Courtland family takes a vacation to the Colorado Mountains. Caitlin picked the mountains for her graduation trip because she wanted to train in the thin air and steep inclines, better preparing herself to compete at the college level.

On her first pre-sunrise mountain training run, accompanied by doughy, out-of-shape Sean on his mountain bike, while parents Grant and Angela remain sleeping at the rented resort cabin, Caitlin is faced with an impossible decision with life-altering… possibly life-ending…consequences. After a speeding jeep crashes into Sean, leaving him barely conscious, bleeding and with a gnarly mangled leg, Caitlin can either accept the driver’s offer to take her down the mountain until she gets a signal on her cell phone or remain with Sean in the remote wilderness and hope the driver sends for help, which he coyly, playfully, menacingly implies he will not. In fear for her brother’s life, Caitlin decides to take her chances getting into the jeep for a ride to a cell phone signal. Caitlin doesn’t return.

Descent picks up a couple of years after Caitlin’s disappearance and backtracks periodically to fill in the gaps of what happened that day and in its immediate aftermath. The book’s set-up is the stuff of standard “woman-in-peril” thrillers, but Johnston avoids the clichés and transcends the genre in two key ways.

First, Descent stands apart from most “woman-in-peril” stories in that Johnston doesn’t try to trade on violence to elicit feelings, ratcheting up the cruelty to the victim and asking us to witness and recoil from her abuse. The author is far more interested in exploring the human toll of this kind of loss: the second-guessing, the recriminations, and the regret. Most of all, it’s about the toll that hope—blind, open-ended hope—as well as the loss of hope take on the individual people that make a family.

Second, Johnston transcends genre through his sure and evocative prose. He exhibits a masterful sense of place, whether it is a rustic mountain cabin, an interstate highway in a sleet storm or never-ending expanse of snow atop a mountain. You’re never any more lost venturing down a massive, landmark-less mountaintop than the character you’re accompanying. And while much of the story concerns the emotional and mental states of each member of the Courtland family, Johnston’s writing is expressive, concrete, visceral, tactile. You experience each fishtail and slide in a car ride up a treacherous snowed- and iced-in mountain road. You can feel the physical difficulty and strain of trying to run in snowshoes across foot-deep snow. You feel the bone-deep cold. Punches land. Violence is felt.

An emotionally affecting, well-paced literary thriller, Descent will keep you up, either reading late into the night or lying in bed wishing you’d hugged your loved ones just one more time when you last saw them.

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What makes my favorite book my favorite book? (or the generously selfish act of reading)

Until recently, if you had asked me how I felt about post-apocalyptic fiction I would have answered something like “Meh. It’s not really my thing.” It’s fictional terrain I’ve never had any particular affinity for and I think I’ve carried around a vague feeling that it’s been done and over done until that ground has been plowed fallow.

When I started thinking about my favorite books I read in 2014, I was confronted with a surprising fact: four of my favorite seven books this year took place in a post-apocalyptic near-future. Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy and The Country of Ice Cream Star made my Top-5 list and the two that just missed the cut, The Book of Strange New Things and Station Eleven, all deal with how humans fare, adjust and build societies after the world we now live in has collapsed. Their power–Station Eleven‘s in particular–comes from what the speculative future world of the page tells us about the world we now live in.

Do I actually like post-apocalyptic fiction? Clearly I don’t dislike it.

* * *

I’m currently reading The Unspeakable, a collection of essays by Meghan Daum about sentimentality in American culture and the doubts she has about many of the things American society tells us we are supposed to feel (e.g., “I don’t love my parents as much as I should”; a married couple not wanting children is strange and selfish, etc.).

It’s a terrific read. Daum’s prose is witty, whip-smart and full of insight. Unfortunately, for a book supposedly about the “unspeakable”, I find it fairly edgeless. Daum, to her credit, explicitly points out that the essays are not meant to be confessional. She’s not “letting it all hang out”. She’s offering her feelings and experiences that run counter to the bromides and borrowed wisdom in our culture. And she does this very well. But I haven’t found anything she’s written particularly transgressive. Certainly nothing “unspeakable”.*

In his autobiographical novel, My Struggle: Book 1, Karl Ove Knausgaard offers up crystalline passages on the selfish emotions, petty resentments and wild self-delusions that most would never admit to a close friend, perhaps not even to a therapist. He laid out every mound and crevasse in his personal emotional terrain in a way that left me staggered. The sense of humanity and the feeling of identification was so acute that the recurring feeling I had when reading My Struggle: Book 1 can best be described as “I am a human being. He (Knausgard) is a human being. We are of the same species.”

* * *

When my reading leaves the solid comfort of the bound page, the confusion and conflict and disharmony of the day inevitably claw their way through the cool light of my laptop. The cycle is familiar: violence (physical, social, intellectual and/or implied) followed by a Reservoir Dogs-style finger-pointing standoff accompanied by incessantly inane (and inanely incessant) media commentary on what “it means.”

So much conflict comes down to competing interpretations of others’ actions. Motives are ascribed and states of minds are divined. Both parties somehow become victim and perpetrator, depending on which agenda-peddler you listen to. Objective truth is supplanted by opposing subjective [exaggerated air quotes] ‘truths’ composed of “a dark smudge of an idea shared among believers,” as it was beautifully expressed by John Darnielle in his spare and striking Wolf in White Van.

The futility of understanding the motivations of others was also gut-wrenchingly mined in Silence Once Begun, another of my 2014 favorites.

* * *

I’ve written before about the power of reading for developing empathy for those outside ourselves and our immediate ecosystem. Research shows a correlative effect between reading fiction and being empathetic.

I’d like to say that I read to help me better understand and empathize with others, but I don’t believe that’s true.

I’ve spent a lot of (gratuitous) time trying to find the emotional or intellectual through-line for the disparate collection of picks in The Wheelhouse, my recommendations section in Booksellers. I’ve been certain that psychographic mapping could uncover the common theme among the literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, sociology, graphic novel and history titles comprising my recommendations.

It may just be as simple as I read to help me better understand me.

I read to help me better understand the world and society in which I live and from there, hopefully, triangulate where I fit.

In the process of trying to better understand myself, I inhabit the worlds of heroes and villains across geographic and temporal boundaries. I learn about others not like me in any obvious way to find and find our commonalities. Where there’s no shared experiences, shared motives and fears and imperatives help me connect, make sense and understand.

Perhaps my favorite books are my favorite because they help me better understand myself and the world and, in doing so, they better connect me to you.

* I’ll allow that gender differences (or my particular emotional makeup) may blunt the landing of some of Daum’s essays.

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The booksellers at Booksellers’ favorite reads of 2014

Every Booksellers at Laurelwood team member was recently asked to name his or her favorite book s/he read in 2014, regardless of when the book was originally published.

While most took the opportunity to praise the book or books they loved, you’ll see some couldn’t pick just one favorite. Many wrote of their favorite and offered up several other titles they found particularly noteworthy. Check out their picks. You’re almost guaranteed to find something (or many things) here you’ll love or that someone you love will love this holiday season.

 

Here’s the booksellers at Booksellers’ favorite books of 2014 in their own words.

 

Corinne Walker

My favorite book of 2014 is surprisingly a book that will not be released until March 2015. Due to the perks of sneak peeks for being in the book industry, I happily discovered and devoured Mosquitoland by David Arnold which became my single FAVORITE read of the Summer 2014 and onward. You need to come to the Booksellers and buy Mosquitoland in March because you want to launch the career of the next John Green! I’m not joking. Arnold’s YA novel has the classic tropes of adolescent discovery, angst, and love combined with an unique cast of characters. I guarantee you haven’t met another powerful female protagonist like Mim, and her voice will surely stay in your head.

Another awesome read to note:

Cory Doctorow’s graphic novel In Real Life illustrated by Jen Wang has stolen my heart! Give it all the awards, folks! And please give it to your Telgemeier lovers- They can only read Sisters so many times! This piece of art and literary genius features a chunkier, more realistic gamer girl coasting through her daily life but then accidentally stumbling upon a major ethical dilemma in the cyber realm. Doctorow always has a moral for us but he isn’t heavy-handed. This book can lead to so many interesting talks if you let it! Doctorow sets up an interesting thematic paradox with real world versus digital world rules and Wang’s visual representation is absolutely astute.

 

Eddie Burton

My favorite book I read this year is Pictures at a Revolution, by Mark Harris. By focusing on the five movies that were nominated for academy awards for best picture in 1967, Harris manages to capture perfectly the fascinating and tumultuous times in both the film industry, and to a large extent, American society as a whole. The book is both an insider’s look at the making of the five movies: Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, and Dr. Doolittle–yes, Dr. Doolittle, and a well-researched (and well-written) account of a period when American cinema was about to change forever.

Others worth noting:

Respect Yourself by Robert Gordon

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides.

I had a non-fiction kind of year.

 

Karen Tallant

The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) by Jeff Vandermeer- What happens when humanity no longer has control over the narrative description of reality? A brilliant effort at saying the unsayable.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel- The contrast and comparison of two different art forms at the end of civilization. Frightening and tender.

The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson- A tale of two intelligence officers traveling through their own agendas and several failed African states. Part Graham Greene, part Joseph Conrad, all cynicism, with just a whiff of catch 22.

No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA and The U.S. Surveillance State by Glen Greenwald- Greenwald’s 10 days in Hong Kong with Edward Snowden bring timely questions about our media, the health of our government, and the nature of understanding the surveillance state.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson- Woodson’s autobiographical free-verse account of growing up in the South is beautiful, lyrical and accessible to all.

 

Mark Frederick

Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Eric Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller by Richard Norton

The Forgotten Adventures of Richard Halliburton: A High Flying Life from Tennessee to Timbuktu by R. Scott Williams

When the Garden was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks by Harvey Araton

Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter by Frank Deford

 

Nicole Yasinsky

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I have been raving about this book since before it came out, and I’m not going to stop! Brown Girl Dreaming, written completely in verse, is the story of award-winning author Jackie Woodson’s childhood–split between rural North Carolina and the New York City. Woodson’s writing is lyrical, yet accessible, and she doesn’t waste one word in telling her beautiful story. I think everyone can find something to enjoy in here–from the strong bond between Jackie and her Grandfather, to lazy, sun-filled days on the farm, to moving into a scary new place and making a lifelong friend. In this sparse text, Woodson also manages to address much heavier things–loss and grief, sibling rivalry, and witnessing and experiencing injustice-with an eloquence and grace that allows the reader to reflect and come away with a richer understanding of themselves and others. As a young girl, Jacqueline Woodson struggled with reading, struggled to find her voice, but came to the eventual realization that she was a born storyteller, and never stopped writing–and for that, I am truly grateful! P.S.–I’m not the only one who liked it–Jacqueline Woodson just received the 2014 National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming!!

***Fun Fact: We like this one SO much, that it was our inaugural book selection for Turning pages: A City-wide read for a Storied City encouraging everyone in the region to read this book! As part of this program, we are also holding a book drive, with the goal of getting at least one copy of this book into every school in Memphis! As you know, that is a LOT of books, so if you are interested in donating a book, give us a call or come on by!

Other books of note:

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown

The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature: The World’s Greatest Kid’s Lit as Comics and Visuals by Russ Kick

 

Joanne Van Zant

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

My favorite book I read this year is All the Light We Cannot See. My greatest pleasure as a bookseller is finding books I know my customers will love. I knew immediately that the perfect blend of history, relationships and imagination in this book would please my valued customers as much as it pleased me.

Other books of note:

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

 

Matt Nixon

My top-5 (+1) favorite books I read in 2014 are:

1 ) Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer

2) Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

3) My Struggle, Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgard

4) Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball

5) The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman (out February 2015)

(Bonus pick for the ongoing Image Comics series, Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Little I read in 2014 engaged me as much as this incredible series does every month.)

 

Jason Bouck

Colorless Tsukura Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A Novel by Haruki Murakami — for fans of his earlier work (Norwegian Wood, Kafka On The Shore) and a return to form after the murky 1Q84, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki hooks you from the start. A fascinating and hypnotically-paced mystery.

Other books of note:

Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn

Attempting Normal by, Marc Maron

It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon

 

Pat Swink

The best book I read in 2014 was The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein. I have joined the chorus of reader and reviewers around the world in praising Stein’s creation and in my love for narrator Enzo, a philosopher who also likes race cars.

Other books of note:

The Dinner by Herman Koch – not your same old menu

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, poetry by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers – a perennial re-discovery with crossover appeal for adults and youngsters alike

Itsy-Bitsy Spider by Richard Egielski – a delight pop-up book by the Caldecott medalist, Egielski

 

Macon Wilson

My favorite book I’ve read this year is Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. Unlike anything I have ever read, Annihilation is the perfect blend of horror, sci-fi, and psychological thriller. For someone like me who is constantly looking for a book that produces nightmares (not JUST because I’m strange… but more so because it displays the rare talent of a great horror novelist), this one will not only do the trick, but will leave the reader thinking about it for days on end. Instead of a campy-like writing style that oftentimes floods the horror genre, VanderMeer’s writing is hauntingly beautiful and frequently reminded me of a modern-day H.P. Lovecraft. I dare you to read it.

Other books of note:

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

You by Caroline Kepnes

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer (Out March 2015!)

 

Joey Carr

My favorite book I read this year is Stella Adler on Ibsen, Strindberg, & Chekov.  Stella Adler, one of the world’s most renowned acting teachers, breaks down the art of playwriting and script interpretation through the works of Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, & Anton Chekov.

Other books of note:

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

Cinematography for Directors: a Creative Collaboration by Jacqueline Frost

Kazan on Directing by Elia Kazan

(I’m 1/3 way through Zoobiquity, by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, which will be highly recommended once I finish it.)

 

Kat Leache

My favorite book I read this year was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. You could say it’s post-apocalyptic for poets (and other sensitive souls). Set twenty years after a fast-acting plague has wiped out most of the earth’s population, Station Eleven is concerned primarily not with the chaos and violence that accompanies the end of the world, but with the questions that must be answered by those forging a new one. Mandel’s writing is spare but lyrical, and she manages to make the barren, unfamiliar new world she describes seem strangely inviting. I would recommend it to almost anyone.

Other books I read and loved in 2014:

The Kids Will Be Fine: Guilt-free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Women by Daisy Waugh

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

The Secret Place by Tana French

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

 

Dianna Dalton

My favorite book I read this year is In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides (that one probably doesn’t need any help but I enjoyed it). It’s a riveting true account of the expedition of the USS Jeanette to be the first to explore, map, and stake claim to the uncharted North Pole turned into a survival story. Phenomenal. Very well written. Couldn’t put it down.

Other books of note:

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless, telling the other side to the Chris McCandless story not covered in the book or the movie Into the Wild.

–I reread The Hot Zone by Richard Preston in light of the Ebola virus epidemic.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Doctored by Sandeep Jauhar

On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History by Nicholas Basbanes

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

 

Megan Fortas

My favorite book this year is Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover. The author never disappoints me because of her amazing writing style, her interesting characters, and her original story lines. I was hooked on this book from the beginning. What I had expected from this book was love but what surprised me was that it made my heart feel like it was being shredded. I suggest reading this book and all her other books because her books are AMAZING!

Other Favorite Books:

Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

Jane’s Melody by Ryan Winfield

Fallen Too Far by Abbi Glines

Rush by Maya Banks

 

Kelly Burchfield

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is by far the best book I’ve read this year.  I still can’t believe I went this long without reading this fantastic book.  It’s got everything – brotherly strife (times two), a completely sociopathic woman, and a whole lot of humor in between the nail-biting moments.

Other favorites of the year:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

In the Woods by Tana French

Coptown by Karin Slaughter

Bird Box by Josh Malerman.

 

Stuart McCommon

Though I typically read fiction (and after much internal debate), I’d have to say that my favorite book that I read in 2014 is All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon & Yoko Ono conducted by David Sheff. The book contains an intimate view into Lennon’s post-Beatles life as a father, a husband, an artist, and a political activist. Though these interviews are more focused on Lennon’s passions outside of music, there is still plenty of insight into his creative process as a songwriter as well.

Other notable works:

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

You by Caroline Kepnes

Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus

An American Dream by Norman Mailer

 

Jamie Wells

My favorite book I read in 2014 was Cruddy, by Lynda Barry. Cruddy wins the distinction of featuring possibly the most screwed up and awful relationship between a father and a daughter that I’ve ever encountered in fiction or otherwise. The narrative is split between our main character both before and after a terrible incident that defines her life and attitudes towards people, sexuality, family, and addiction. Though the present day narrative has its highlights (including many wild nicknames our protagonist comes up with as she meets the rest of the damaged cast), the highlight of the story takes place in the past: where our main character is trapped with her mentally unstable father as he checks off his bloody to-do list. What makes him (she refers to him strictly as The Father) such an intimidating character is that he seems to go back and forth between gruffly affectionate to suddenly violent. In-between these events he encourages her to drink, gives her a knife of her very own, and dispenses fatherly advice, all while refusing to call her anything but “Clyde”, the boy he wishes he’d had.  The book is accompanied by gritty (and frankly ugly) illustrations that put one in the mood for the sort of dark, vomit-inducing horrors that await the reader.

Other books of note:

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer

Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Ant Colony by Michael Deforge

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