Family Stories from the Attic is an anthology of nearly two dozen works of prose and poetry inspired by letters, diaries, photographs, and other family papers and artifacts. Every time I read through the pieces, I fall more in love with the stories of immigration and migration, time, history, family, love, and change. The contributors represent both new and established authors and are from throughout the United States and Australia.
To celebrate, the press is hosting a book giveaway. Click here to read the anthology’s introduction and learn how you can receive one of three free copies (giveaway entries end on Sunday, April 9 at midnight CDT).
Everyone is invited to the anthology’s official launch event, which will be held at Boswell Book Company (2559 N. Downer Ave. in Milwaukee) on Saturday, May 13th, at 7 p.m. There you will be able to purchase the book, get it signed, and hear several of the contributors read from their family stories. I hope to see you there! (And congratulations to Daniel Goldin and everyone at Boswell Book Company, which was just named by Real Simple magazine as the best bookstore in Wisconsin.)
I’m terrible at making lists, especially ranked lists. Coming up with my favorite anything is nearly impossible, especially if it has to be done on the spot. Even when there is time to ponder my answer (or write a blog post), I still struggle and second-guess myself and feel an inexplicable disloyalty to items not chosen. Books and movies are, after all, friends, and who wants to rank one’s friends?
This year, however, I’ve enjoyed several “favorite books of 2016” lists from other bloggers that have arrived in my inbox, so I will play, too. Here are five books (in alphabetical order) that have become a part of me in 2016, along with a bit of explanation of how I found them. Maybe among them you will find a title to add to your to-read list for 2017.
Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
Somehow I’d missed hearing of news surrounding the million-dollar bidding war for Imbolo Mbue’s first novel, Behold the Dreamers. I first learned of the book through a review on Ainehi Edoro’s blog/website Brittle Paper(see also Things Fall Apart, below). The characters of Jende and Neni as they chase an elusive American Dream have stayed with me ever since, and I agree with the Kirkus review: “Realistic, tragic, and still remarkably kind to all its characters, this is a special book.” Watch Imbolo Mbue discuss her debut title:
Dune, by Frank Herbert
I’m not sure how I made it to age fifty-two without having read Dune, but when I saw that Emily Asher-Perrin at Tor.com was going to write a series of posts on “Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune,” I took it as a sign to remedy this particular reading gap. Even before reaching the last page, I knew that this was a book I, too, would be re-reading sooner rather than later. Below, Frank Herbert discusses the world of Dune in a 1982 interview:
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
I read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in preparation for Behold the Dreamers because of this paragraph in Ainehi Edoro’s review of Mbue’s novel at Brittle Paper (Edoro describes Brittle Paper as “the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture”):
Behold the Dreamers is also beautifully Achebean. “America is the center of the world,” Jende says to his wife as they sit below the statue of Columbus in Columbus Circle. “Columbus Circle is the center of Manhattan. Manhattan is the center of New York. New York is the Center of America and America is the center of the world. So we are sitting in the Center of the world, right?” This is one of the most Achebean moments in the novel. Underneath this e
e of America as a durable center holding the world in neatly drawn concentric circles is the freakish force of the housing market set to destabilize global economy. Mbue’s New York City recalls Achebe’s enduring image of a community falling apart at the moment it imagines itself to be the center of the world. Read full review
Like much of the rest of the world, I caught Hamilton fever in 2016 in a big way. After reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, upon which the Broadway musical is based, I turned to Chernow’s Pulitzer-winning biography of George Washington, forever enriching and complicating my understanding of our first president (and Martha). Read a review and excerpt at NPR.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Huraki Murakami
In October, my husband and I made a bit of an impromptu trip to New York to use some airline miles that were about to expire. While in a lower Manhattan bookstore, I decided to get something not only to read on the way home but also as a memento of the trip (there is a special joy in remembering travels while reading a book bought on the journey). Having enjoyed Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore, I chose his The Wind-Up BirdChronicle. I was not disappointed. Once again, his words and story made me view life anew, as a journey with the potential for hidden and even magical realties and meaning embedded in each moment, choice, and interaction. Read a Paris Review interview with Murakami here.
What were some books that you read and loved in 2016?
I am happy to announce that Kathy Chauncey was the randomly chosen name to receive a signed copy of The Adventures of a Sparrow Name Stanley! Thanks to everyone for your comments and participation. A Goodreads Book Giveaway for Stanley ends May 8th, so there are more chances to get a signed copy (please share the link below with anyone you know who loves children’s books).
Looking for a last-minute, untraditional Valentine’s Day gift for someone who
loves to read
is a science nerd
enjoys laughing out loud
all of the above?
Get yourself to the nearest bookstore this weekend to buy coral reef ecologist Marah J. Hardt’s Sex in the Sea, the subtitle of which is Our Intimate Connection with Sex-Changing Fish, Romantic Lobsters, Kinky Squid, and Other Salty Erotica of the Deep (St. Martin’s Press, 2016).
You might be thinking, sure, the title is titillating, but science writing is so dry. Not this book. I’ve indexed many science-related books over the years, and I can’t think of one that is more well-written for a general audience than Sex in the Sea (also, I never before have had cause to index the term “penis fencing”). Hardt’s prose as elegant, super smart, and laugh-out-loud funny, complemented perfectly with illustrations by Missy Chimovitz. In fact, reading passages aloud to one other would make a perfect Valentine’s Day date for the human species.
The author’s blog offers a taste of what you’ll find:
“It’s January, and seahorses in the southern hemisphere are full swing into some summer lovin’. And if you’re out cruising the seagrass beds off Australia’s south coast, you might get lucky too, and witness the remarkable act of a female impregnating a male. Seahorses turn the tables on sexual roles.
And while their cryptic coloration makes courting seahorses difficult to see, especially observant divers—like the two researchers who filmed the footage below—might catch a glimpse of the extraordinary aftermath of seahorse sex: a seahorse dad giving birth in the wild… ” Read more and see the video
Not in the mood for love this Valentine’s Day? Take a cue from female copepods who perform a “rejection dance” of “extreme flips and violent shaking,” whether “to discourage fertilization when it is not needed or a way to test the male’s mettle is not known” (Hardt, p. 12).
The appetite for Everything Jane seems to know no bounds. Jane Austen’s six full-length novels are as beloved as anything written in the English language, inspiring fan fiction, film, and other forms of popular culture nearly two hundred years after the author’s death.
If you are looking for a gift for a Jane Austen fan in your life who already has Jane phone covers and finger puppets, movies and coffee mugs, here is an idea that is as informative as it is entertaining: All three of Jane’s volumes of juvenilia (works written while she was young) are available from Amazon in hard cover as a boxed set (published by Abbeville Press). The price is good for the quality. Each volume contains both facsimile pages of the original notebooks and typed transcriptions.
The original vellum notebooks in which Jane wrote were gifts from her father, indicative of her family’s support for her talent. Jane began writing in them when she was eleven or twelve, penning the last dated entry when she was seventeen. The first volume is at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and the second and third are at London’s British Library.
Even in the first volume, one can hear Jane’s distinctive voice and subtle, quick humor. This is from a short sketch titled “The Adventures of Mr. Harley”:
Mr. Harley was one of many Children. Destined by his father for the Church & by his Mother for the Sea, desirous of pleasing both, he prevailed on Sir John to obtain for him a Chaplaincy on board a Man of War. He accordingly cut his Hair and sailed.
In the second volume, she partnered at age 16 with her older sister, Cassandra, to write a light-hearted “History of England.” Cassandra provided illustrations.
You can see all of the juvenilia notebooks in facsimile, as well as other Austen manuscripts, at Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts. Janeites might also enjoy the TLS essay “Ungentle Jane” that features the juvenilia, and a podcast from a recent Chawton House Library conference celebrating 20 years since the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Finally, for your viewing pleasure (and nostalgia for parents who raised children in the 90’s), below is the Wishbone version of Pride and Prejudice, “Furst Impressions,” in three parts (Austen’s working title for Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions).
“Furst Impressions” (part 1 of 3)
“Furst Impressions” (part 2 of 3)
“Furst Impressions” (part 3 of 3)
Don’t forget to catch up with all the bloggers participating in the #30PostsHathSept Blog Challenge!