From the TBR Shelf #23: Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922) by Sinclair Lewis

I often find myself comparing Lewis to Theodore Dreiser, mostly because I once heard that both were considered for the Nobel Prize, but Lewis prevailed. Dreiser has always been one of my favorite writers, and I defend him whenever anyone mutters something snarky about the "quality of his prose" or the "plainness" of his ideas. After all, while he may not have been the most accomplished stylist, Dreiser wrote with a deep sympathy and curiosity, producing works of fiction in an effort to understand people and promote tolerance. Lewis I know much less about (having not yet read any biographies of him, and only three of his novels so far), but I see him at times as Dreiser's polar opposite, interested in exposing, rather than understanding, the people around him.


Random Recommendation Guest Post: An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

This recommendation comes from Karena Fagan. You can follow her on Tumblr and on twitter @KarenaFagan. An Untamed State (2014) by Roxane Gay

Praised by many for its narrative power, An Untamed State tells the story of a Haitian woman kidnapped for ransom, her captivity as her father refuses to pay and her husband fights for her release over thirteen days, and her struggle to come to terms with the ordeal in its aftermath.


From the TBR Shelf #22: Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls Horses (2009) by Jeannette Walls

Snakes dropping onto your kitchen table, floods destroying your house, tornadoes flattening towns: this was the world of Lily Casey Smith, the writer's grandmother, who was born and raised in the American Southwest during the early 20th century. Walls takes her grandmother as her subject in this, her second, book, after describing her own itinerant and unstable childhood in The Glass Castle. And despite the flatness of the narrative voice at times, Walls's book masterfully offers us a long-vanished world as seen through the eyes of her no-nonsense, determined, intelligent grandmother.


Random Recommendation Guest Post: Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird

This recommendation comes from Melissa W. You can follow her on her blog,, on , and on twitter @balletbookworm. the East China Sea (2014) by Sarah Bird

An historical novel set in Okinawa during the last months of WWII, Above the East China Sea tells the entwined stories of two teenaged girls, an American and an Okinawan, whose lives are connected across seventy years by the shared experience of loss, the enduring strength of an ancient culture, and the redeeming power of family love.


In Translation: July Fiction

It’s July, so it’s time for another fabulous crop of newly-translated fiction. This time, I’m highlighting works from South Korea, Germany, and Italy. Don’t forget to tell me about your latest translated reads in the comments.

Literary Tourism: Louisville, Kentucky visited this charming Southern city on the Kentucky/Indiana border several years ago to give a paper at a literary studies conference. All I knew about it was what my dad had told me, since he had lived there for a time a few decades earlier- but much had changed since then. The Louisville I saw was a vibrant, creative city with a rich literary culture. Come on, let me show you around:

(And remember, it’s pronounced LOOuhvul!)


Review: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King Mercedes by Stephen King (Scribner, 448 pages, June 2014)

There's so much to love about Mr. Mercedes, King's latest novel, but this is not just me fan-girling all over it. Allow me to explain.

Unlike Under the Dome, for instance, Mr. Mercedes has just a handful of major characters, and it's this tightly-controlled narrative that propels the story forward at a brisk pace. You find yourself reading so fast that you're skipping words, but you want to know what did he just find out? Will they be too late? Will they warn them in time? etc. etc.


Books to Look For (July): Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Humor

Science Fiction,204,203,200_.jpgAll Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park (Tor Books, 272 pages, July 1)

A novel of three alternate histories, All Those Vanished Engines offers us an intriguing look at the Civil War (apparently, the U.S. has a queen?), WWII (super-secret project- reminds me of parts of Cryptonomicon), and a near-future complete with aliens from the past. Yeah.


Translate Émile Zola: An Open Letter to Publishers

manet-zolaArtists, coal miners, prostitutes, politicians: you’ll find all of these characters and more in the works of Émile Zola.

I read my first Zola novel in college, during a lull in my final exams at the end of sophomore year. The college bookstore happened to have a copy of Le ventre de Paris (The Belly Of Paris) in its little “general literature” section, and from the moment I read the first page I was HOOKED.

Setting out to write about every aspect of French society under the Second Empire, Zola (1840-1902) crafted twenty exquisitely detailed novels over the course of two decades at the end of the 19th century. His formulation of literary Naturalism, where the writer attempts to objectively study and analyze human society through the lives of his/her characters, was so influential that it drove Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser, among others, to craft their own versions of American Naturalism.

From the TBR Shelf #21: Tenth of December by George Saunders of December (2013) by George Saunders

Yes, I know, unbelievable that it took me this long to get around to reading Tenth of December, but now I've done it and...well...*mind. blown.*

I think Karen Russell (another fantastic writer of short stories) says it best: "[I] read Saunders because he always makes me want to write. He reads like he's having such a good time..."

Yes, yes, and yes. I find I get as much enjoyment out of Saunders as I do, say, when I read Arthur C. Clarke (one of my favorites). The energy, stylistic experimentation, and twisted satire in Saunders' stories reminds me of how incredibly strange the world is and how ultimately unknowable are the people in it.


Random Recommendation Guest Post: I Served The King of England by Bohumil Hrabal

This recommendation comes from Jake Burnett. You can follow him on twitter @Quibblemuch and on his website Quibblemuch's Impractical Miscellany Served the King of England (1983) by Bohumil Hrabal (transl. Paul Wilson)

A wonderful, sad, wistful, comic, sweet novel about a busboy in a Prague hotel in the middle of the 20th century. Hrabal is incredible, and this is one of the best introductions to his work I can think of. This novel captures an acceptance of the sadness and tragedy underlying life (especially during the darkness of the last century), yet treats that sadness with a softly comic sensibility. Hrabal is high on my list of writers whom I wish I had had the privilege to know.


Review: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique (Riverhead Books, 350 pages, July)

I've now read two books by Tiphanie Yanique in just a few months, and I can't wait to see what she publishes next. Both HowTo Escape From A Leper Colony and LoLaD explore the rich history of the Caribbean Islands and interactions between its people and foreigners (mostly from the U. S.). Yanique dwells on the unique aspects of each island, and also what draws them together. Because its people are a rich mixture of cultures and ethnicities, the Caribbean offers her a varied and fascinating field of study.


Books to Look For (July): History, Comics/Graphic Novels, & Travel

History Anne: Patroness of Arts by James Anderson Winn (Oxford University Press, 816 pages, July)

Despite a life marked by tragedy, Anne was nonetheless a devotee and patroness of the arts in 17th-century England. The last Stuart monarch, Anne inspired poets, painters, and composers to create works of great beauty and political importance, even as she excelled in the arts. Handel, Pope, Wren- they're all here. Sooo, guess this means I'm adding another British monarch biography to the TBR list!


Rachel's Random Recommendation #39: Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse (1927) by Herman Hesse

You know those books that, even years after you've read them, you mostly forget what they're about but you remember how they made you feel? Yeah, that's my experience with Steppenwolf.

I remember reading this (my second) Hesse novel as a teenager, depressed that college and independence were still so far away (another year of high school!) and looking to books for solace. Having read Siddhartha a couple of times, I knew that Hesse would make me forget about the world and revel in language- thus, Steppenwolf.


What's YOUR Random Recommendation?

So I drone on and on and on about the books I've loved, and I want to hear from YOU GUYS. So hit me with your random recs and I'll post them each Monday night.


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Books to Look For (July): Biography, Literary Fiction, & Mystery

Biography Ride: America's First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr (Thorndike Press, July)

Oh man, I can't WAIT to get my paws on this book. I mean, if it weren't for the whole math and science and being crazy-fit thing, I'd totally be an astronaut. But seriously, I read James Hansen's First Man- a biography of Neil Armstrong- a few years ago and became only more fascinated with the development of the space program and the men and women who made it happen. I don't know a whole lot about Sally Ride, but I'm going to change that.