From the Shelf
From Russia, with Bookish Love
I've been "reading Russia" since first encountering the classics (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin) and then the contemporaries (Solzhenitsyn, Akhmatova) in the mid-20th century, during my ancient college years. The adventure continues. I'm always ready for something new.
One of my favorite books this year is The Long Hangover: Putin's New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past by Shaun Walker (Oxford University Press), the Guardian's central and eastern Europe correspondent. A "large cast of Russian characters" populate Walker's book, from ordinary citizens to the man at the top ("Putin was, to some extent, the director of the post-Soviet story for modern Russia, but he was also very much a character in it.").
A speculative novel that's had a profound impact on me is the The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin, translated by Lisa Hayden (Oneworld). When Innokenty Petrovich Platanov wakes up in 1999, he is a 100-year-old man in a 30-year-old body. Under a doctor's care, he gradually recovers memories from before he was cryogenically preserved as part of a Gulag experiment. What has he missed? Among other things, the rise and fall of the Soviet empire... and much of his life.
Other reads of note recently are Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi (Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya), translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and Irina Steinberg (New York Review Books); and the amazing memoir Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich (Random House).
I also recommend 2017: A Novel by Olga Slavnikova, a Russian Booker Prize-winning work translated by Marian Schwartz (Overlook Press). I began reading Slavnikova in 2012 after seeing her on a book conference panel, where she stressed the importance of translators while serving up a sharp little jab: "The only way to reach the American reader is to have the books translated so well they read like they were written in English." Well played, I thought at the time. --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by Fredrik Backman
In the sequel to Beartown, the residents of a small, embattled town struggle to maintain their beloved hockey team amid violence, deceit and hate.
by Elizabeth Rush
This study of rising sea levels puts both science and poetry to work in honoring human and non-human coastal communities across the United States.
by Preston Norton
In this biting, hilarious, gut-wrenching novel, a huge disgruntled teen is recruited on a crazy mission by the most popular kid in school to rehabilitate bullies, uncaring teachers and drug dealers.
Review by Subjects:
06/18/2018 - 6:00PMThis month's selection is Wool by Hugh Howey.
06/21/2018 - 6:30PMThis month's selection is Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire.
06/23/2018 - 10:30AMJoin us for a special story time with author and illustrator Jonathan D. Voss. Fans of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, George and Martha, and Frog and Toad are sure to fall for best friends Hoot & Olive in Jonathan Voss's winning author-illustrator debut. Olive is a little girl who likes the types of adventures that exist in books. Her best friend Hoot, a stuffed-animal owl, prefers the ones that take place in the real world. Today, Hoot gets to pick the adventures. At first, Olive...
06/23/2018 - 12:00PMJoin us as Raleigh author Debbie Moose discusses her latest cookbook Carolina Catch. Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast examines the state's bounty of fish and seafood, explains why it's important to ask for N.C. fish and provides remedies for "fear of fish." Author Debbie Moose includes more than 90 recipes that will help you offer lesser known kinds of fish a place on your plate.
06/25/2018 - 6:30PMJoin us as we welcome Elizabeth Carroll to Page 158 as she discusses her book The Swinging Doors. Ellie Sinders is no stranger to the violent world of men. A bloomer girl for the past seven years, her life is dictated by the contract kept in the bottom of Fred’s money box. For Ellie, each day is a matter of survival—from hunger, from the passions of men, and from her own mother, the infamous Maggie Sinders. Then three strangers come to town, and Ellie’s fragile existence is forever shattered....
06/27/2018 - 6:00PMThis month's selection is The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis.
06/28/2018 - 11:00AMThis month's selection is Close to Home by Clara Hunter.
06/28/2018 - 7:00PMThis month's selection is The Changeling by Joy Williams.
Phenomenal Fictional Fathers
For Father's Day, Quirk Books considered some "fictional dads we secretly want to be."
"Only true book lovers will score 100% on this quiz," Buzzfeed challenged.
"The surprising practice of binding old books with scraps of even older books" was explored by Atlas Obscura.
CBC Books gathered "90 facts about the wild world of Maurice Sendak."
Author Marc Mulholland picked his "top 10 working-class heroes in books" for the Guardian.
Rediscover: The Road from Coorain
Jill Ker Conway, an Australian-American author who was also the first woman president of Smith College, died on June 1 at age 83. She was born on a 32,000-acre sheep ranch deep in the Australian outback, with little company growing up except her parents, brothers and a teacher. The ranch, called Coorain (an Aboriginal word for windy place), prospered until a seven-year drought. When Conway was 11, her father drowned while attempting to expand Coorain's irrigation system. After a further three years of drought, Conway's mother moved the family to Sydney, where Jill struggled to integrate with her new peers. She went on to graduate from the University of Sydney and moved to the United States in 1960. She received a Ph.D. from Harvard, met a Canadian professor who later became her husband, and taught at the University of Toronto from 1964 to 1975. Conway was the president of Smith College from 1975 to 1985, and thereafter a visiting professor at MIT.
Conway's writing career began with the publication of her first memoir, The Road from Coorain, in 1989. It tracks her early life in the outback and her moves to Sydney and the U.S. Her second memoir, True North (1994), follows Conway's time teaching in Toronto. She also wrote A Woman's Education (2001) and When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography (1998), and was the editor of several books, including Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women (1992) and In Her Own Words: Women's Memoirs from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States (1999). She received a National Humanities Medal in 2013. The Road from Coorain was last published in 1990 by Vintage Departures ($15.95, 9780679724360). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Helen Hoang: The Case for Neurodiverse Romance Heroines
|photo: Eric Kieu|
Helen Hoang's love of romance novels began in childhood. In her own debut romance novel, she created a cast of characters beginning with the unusually talented but also unusually challenged autistic heroine Stella Lane. The Kiss Quotient (Berkley, June 5, 2018, reviewed below) is the first in a series, with Bride Test scheduled for release in 2019 and a third after that. Hoang lives in San Diego, Calif., with her husband, two kids and pet fish.
The question that is surely on every reader's mind: to what extent is The Kiss Quotient based on a true story?
While The Kiss Quotient is a work of fiction (I've never hired a male escort to be my practice boyfriend, or anything else), significant parts of it are based upon my own experiences.
I wrote this book while I was personally undergoing diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder (I wasn't diagnosed until age 34) and, through Stella, I explored parts of myself I'd never understood and always tried to hide: difficulty with relationships and intimacy, all-consuming interests, social awkwardness, routines, repetitive motions, etc. Stella's struggle to accept her differences and share her label mirrors mine.
To Michael I gave my tight-knit family, complete with the passel of sisters, the trouble-causing dad, the health issues and the relating drama. Family has always been my greatest treasure, but at the same time, love like that brings the kind of responsibility and obligation you can't escape from, not without losing everything that matters.
Do you see yourself in Stella?
I'm far more cynical than Stella, and she's way smarter--but her thought processes and many of her quirks are mine. She's the me I wish I was.
As a reader, it's easy to fall in love with Michael--he is one of the closest embodiments to a perfect man. What do you see as his faults?
It makes me extremely happy to hear Michael referred to this way, since as we know, he's Asian, has unconventional occupations, and is therefore fighting those associated stereotypes. His faults all boil down to insecurity, mostly from things beyond his control. In order to earn a happy future with Stella, he has to overcome these insecurities.
It's exciting to see a heroine with autism. We read plenty about men with autism disorders but not nearly as much about women with that diagnosis. What are you most hoping The Kiss Quotient will accomplish?
I had two goals when I wrote Stella: (1) I wanted to offer a peek into the mind of an autistic woman and show that while her thought processes may be slightly different, she still has the same fundamental needs and desires as anyone else, and (2) I hoped to bring extra awareness to the existence and under-diagnosis of autism in women. Maybe this romance novel can strike a chord with other women like me and help them find their way toward diagnoses of their own and potentially that of their daughters, as well.
For all those autistic people out there trying to figure out romantic relationships, as well as for neurotypical people who are bewildered by the dating world, how did you meet your husband? Any interesting anecdotes about your courtship?
Traditional courtship is like this: men do the pursuing. Women respond by playing hard to get. Mind games ensue until both parties admit their interest.
I didn't do any of that. Senior year of college, when a certain someone caught my eye (he was a physics grad student who taught martial arts in his down time--so sexy, right?!), I joined his class with the sole purpose of getting to know him. It didn't take long for me to discover this person had real potential. Not only did we have common interests, but the way he looked at me, the way he listened to me, even the way he said my name like he enjoyed the sound of it, felt just right.
After the first class, I asked him to lunch. And he said no, he wasn't hungry. After the second class, I asked him to dinner. And he said no, he'd already eaten. After the third class, I asked him to dessert. And he said no, it was too late for sweets. After the fourth class, I invited him to a party at my house. He said he'd show up. But then he had food poisoning. After the last class of the semester, I invited him to see Return of the King with me. Ding ding ding! I should have known Lord of the Rings would do it. He didn't realize it was a date until after the movie, but by then he was bewitched by my charms and bulldog tenacity.
In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have asked him out so many times. After the first couple rejections (or maybe the first one), a people-savvy person would have assumed he wasn't interested, but that idea never occurred to me. I just thought he wasn't hungry. And good thing, because it turns out he's just as clueless as I am and likely neurodiverse himself. He was my first and only boyfriend and quite perfect for me.
What is it that draws you to romance novels?
I read (and write) romance novels for the emotions--to understand them and to experience them.
I'm lucky enough to have the ability to read faces, but that isn't always enough to tell me what people are feeling. It definitely isn't enough to tell me why. In a romance novel, however, emotions are all written down clearly on the page, and they make sense. The author literally tells you the whole story. It's a fascinating window into people's minds.
Also, I am an emotionally reserved person in real life. There are several reasons for that, but one of them is self-preservation. I can't be devastated if I'm never invested, but on the flip side, I miss out on a lot that way, too. The special thing about romance is that it always has a happy ending. It's a defining rule of the genre. Because of this, romance novels allow me to let my guard down and experience a full range of emotion, from first kiss, to heartbreak, to, as promised, happily ever after.
For budding writers out there, can you share anything about your writing process that might serve as inspiration?
The best writing advice I can give is the same life advice that got me a husband: Never give up. Natural writing talent probably exists, but I don't have it. When I started writing, I was fabulously horrible at it. Luckily, it's a learnable skill. If you don't give up, you can and will improve. If you love what you're doing, that is success right there. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Us Against You
by Fredrik Backman
Discover: In the sequel to Beartown, the residents of a small, embattled town struggle to maintain their beloved hockey team amid violence, deceit and hate.
by Arif Anwar
Discover: A panoramic, multigenerational saga set against the backdrop of Bangladesh's violent birth as an independent nation.
Little Big Love
by Katy Regan
Discover: A lovable, determined, 11-year-old boy seeks to unravel a decade-long mystery in his family and finally find his birth father.
by Jason Mott
Discover: An enjoyable novel about two teens at the end of the world--one who's forgotten the past and one who's doomed to remember it.
The Kiss Quotient
by Helen Hoang
Discover: This romance novel features a highly functioning autistic woman and the unlikely hero who captures her heart.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"
by Zora Neale Hurston
Discover: This is the account of an 86-year-old survivor of the last slave ship to arrive in the United States.
Rome: A History in Seven Sackings
by Matthew Kneale
Discover: Matthew Kneale's Rome: A History in Seven Sackings deftly brings out Roman history in a concise, fun way.
Nature & Environment
Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore
by Elizabeth Rush
Discover: This study of rising sea levels puts both science and poetry to work in honoring human and non-human coastal communities across the United States.
Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica: A Suboptimal Guide to Soccer, America's "Sport of the Future" Since 1972
by Michael Davies , Roger Bennett
Discover: The U.S.'s most popular soccer pundits provide an offbeat take on the game.
Children's & Young Adult
Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
by Preston Norton
Discover: In this biting, hilarious, gut-wrenching novel, a huge disgruntled teen is recruited on a crazy mission by the most popular kid in school to rehabilitate bullies, uncaring teachers and drug dealers.
Saturday Is Swimming Day
by Hyewon Yum
Discover: Swimming lessons give a little girl stomachaches--until her patient teacher gently draws her into the water for floating, bobbing, splashing fun.
Lions & Liars
by Kate Beasley , illust. by Dan Santat
Discover: A string of unlucky events leads 10-year-old Frederick to a disciplinary camp for boys, where he finds himself uncharacteristically the leader of the pack... until the hurricane comes.
Art & Photography
Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous
by Christopher Bonanos
Discover: Christopher Bonanos's solid and sympathetic biography of Weegee describes a complex man who lived to shoot good pictures--and make a name for himself.