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Shelf Awareness

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Friday, October 16, 2020

From the ShelfLoving Flawed StoriesAs readers, we sometimes have the complicated task of loving stories that disappoint us. Early on in the wildly imaginative Lovecraft Country, both the novel by Matt Ruff (Harper Perennial, $16.99) and the HBO adaptation, comes the observation, "Stories are like people.... Loving them doesn't make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though.... Sometimes, they stab me in the heart."
H.P. Lovecraft's racism is no secret, and it falls under sharp critique in the gleefully irreverent I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas (Night Shade, $15.95). The hilarious murder mystery set at a Lovecraft convention holds nothing back as it grapples with the racism, misogyny and overzealous fan cultures that persist in literature. But the wounds it exposes are deep: "I kept reading Lovecraft, but at a distance," the narrator says. "I was one of the bad people in his work, who terrified the good people just by existing."
Leila Taylor presses those ideas further in her elegant work of literary criticism Darkly: Blackness and America's Gothic Soul (Repeater, $14.95). An admitted fan of Edgar Allan Poe's work, Taylor is not unaware of what he might think of her Blackness. "He doesn't have H.P. Lovecraft's blatant xenophobia," she writes, "but a more liquid unease wrought with guilt which seems more appropriate for American horror. Poe's anxiety is an American anxiety, wary of... the Blackness we brought to our shores and the darkness we fostered." This context is made especially compelling when Taylor goes on to assess many of Poe's most famous stories as being about attempts "to get away with murder and the effort to deny it."
It's hard to let go of writing that, for whatever reason, grips us. I deeply admire readers like this, who, as James Baldwin said about his love for America, love flawed stories enough to criticize them perpetually. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness In this issue...Book CandySpotting Your Own TypoesGreat ReadsRediscover: 1968The Writer's LifeMarcus J. Moore: On the Living Legacy of Kendrick LamarReviewsThe Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black Americaby Marcus J. MooreThis vivid, deeply researched biography of Kendrick Lamar is rich with memorable details and commentary on the Pulitzer-winning rapper's life, art and cultural impact so far.Read this review >>Apple (Skin to the Core)by Eric GansworthAn Onondaga writer and visual artist does his part to carry on the family stories through a brilliantly moving combination of verse, prose and illustration.Read this review >>The Cancer Journalsby Audre LordeThis reprint of the self-described Black lesbian feminist poet's seminal work from 1980 reads like a harbinger of #MeToo, body positivity and other social movements.Read this review >>Reviews by subject:Fiction ⋅ Mystery & Thriller ⋅ Science Fiction & Fantasy ⋅ Romance ⋅ Food & Wine ⋅ Biography & Memoir ⋅ History ⋅ Health & Medicine ⋅ Children's & Young Adult

Book Candy Spotting Your Own TypoesMental Floss revealed "the reason it's so hard to spot your own typos."
The "top 10 underrated Agatha Christie novels" were showcased by the Guardian.
Brightly offered "Spanish/English bilingual printables and activities" for kids.
Russia Beyond featured the "10 main Russian poets you need to know."
"Explore the Roman cookbook, De Re Coquinaria, the oldest known cookbook in existence." (via Open Culture)
The Perryopolis, Pa., house featured in the 1991 film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is on the market, listing for $298,500, Deadline reported. Great Reads Rediscover: 19681968 was marked by what author Mark Kurlansky (Cod, Salt) called "a spontaneous combustion of rebellious spirits around the world." That tumultuous year included student protests and rebellions in the U.S., Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Mexico and elsewhere; the growth of the Black Power, women's and antiwar movements; the Prague Spring; the Tet Offensive, marking a turning point for the U.S. in the Vietnam War; the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; police brutality during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and a deeply divisive presidential election. These events were amplified, Kurlansky says, by new developments in media, particularly television's new use of videotape, which didn't need to be developed, transmitted via satellites from around the world, making the war and protests more immediate.
Some of what happened in 1968 had long-lasting significance, even continuing to the present day, including the Republican Party's Southern strategy and embrace of "law and order," as well as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which destroyed many people's belief that the Soviet system could be reformed, leading to its end some 20 years later.
While there are some differences--including a pandemic and increasingly destructive climate change now--the year 1968 is eerily resonant in the year 2020. Substitute social media for TV "live" feeds, Black Lives Matter for Black Power, Trump for Nixon, and so on.
Kurlansky recounted the turbulent time in 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, first published in 2004. The book is available from Random House Trade Paperbacks ($18). --John Mutter The Writer's Life Marcus J. Moore: On the Living Legacy of Kendrick Lamar

photo: Moyo Oyelola

Journalist and music critic Marcus J. Moore is a contributing writer with the Nation and a contributing editor with Bandcamp Daily. He has covered soul, jazz, hip-hop and rock at the New York Times, Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly, the Washington Post, NPR, Rolling Stone and the Atlantic, among others. His debut book, The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America (Atria; reviewed below) is the first in-depth cultural biography of the multi-Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar.
In your acknowledgments, you write: "I've been asked this question a lot over the past two years: Why Kendrick Lamar? The answer is always simple: Why not? Though he isn't done creating (as of this writing), there's no denying the grand impact he's had on music and Black culture over the past decade. His story is worth celebrating, so why not give him flowers now?" Was it difficult to tell this story now, while Lamar is still alive and still creating?
There were a few (though not many) skeptics in the public space who thought it was too early for a Kendrick Lamar biography. I disagreed; I thought it was the perfect time for this. For too long, historians have tried to reduce or erase Black history, even though we built this country for free. There's this notion that people either need to be old or deceased before they can get their flowers. That doesn't make sense to me. We should uplift each other all the time. You never know what someone is going through, or when tragedy might strike. Far too often, when legends transition, we flood social media with messages of "gone too soon" and "they didn't get the credit they deserved," but there's a whole generation of living legends whose stories should be captured in books.
In The Butterfly Effect, you tie together threads from the specifics of Kendrick Lamar's life and art to broad movements like Black Lives Matter, the quest for greater gun control in the U.S. and racist "Make America Great Again" narratives. So much of Lamar's impact is due to ways he does this in his lyrics. How did your background as a music critic and journalist prepare you for this work?
I had to tap into all aspects of my career to write this book. There was some local reporting, business reporting, education reporting, political reporting and music analysis. I had to remember the old days of working a beat and developing sources. Then, of course, I tapped into music criticism to unpack the narrative of Kendrick's music. I also wanted the book to feel like a casual conversation between me and the reader. I wanted the narrative to be incredibly clear, so at the end of it, there'd be no mistaking how Kendrick became Kendrick, and how [record label] TDE influenced the world....Read more >>
Book Reviews
Fiction Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman A matriarch of American witchcraft is fully realized in Magic Lessons, Alice Hoffman's prequel to her 1995 novel, Practical Magic. In 2017, The Rules of Magic expanded her descendants' modern-day stories, and now readers learn the roots of the sorcery, passed from mothers to daughters for centuries.
Hoffman's sympathetic telling of Maria Owens's 17th-century life is enchanting, although her journey includes the intolerance endured by many settlers--none more brutal than in Maria's first American home of Salem, Mass. Maria is a survivor. Abandoned at birth, she learns the "Nameless Arts" from her adoptive mother, Hannah. Horribly, Hannah is burned as a witch, and Maria is sent from England to Curaçao in 1680 as an indentured servant. She swears to avoid love, but no charms or teas prevent romance, or the arrival of baby Faith. Determined to find John Hathorne, the seductive merchant who fathered her daughter, Maria's healing skills earn her passage to Massachusetts. In Salem, Hathorne shuns her, but mother and daughter live tenuously under the Puritans' judgmental glares, while women surreptitiously buy her potions.
A tale of witchcraft, romance and empowerment, Magic Lessons is also a thoughtful perspective on American history. Maria and Faith settle in more open-minded Manhattan, escaping Salem's persecution in the name of religion. Even though teenage Faith explores the "dark arts," Maria holds her positive maxim: "You receive what you give threefold." Instrumental in the 1693 outlawing of witchcraft trials, she's rewarded in an unlikely happy ending--with "a man who did not believe that love could ever be a curse." --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.Discover: In the satisfying third volume of Alice Hoffman's Magic series, Maria Owens arrives in Salem and begins the dynasty of American Owens women skilled in the "Nameless Arts."Simon & Schuster, $27.99 hardcover, 416p., 9781982108847
Mystery & Thriller The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher An eccentric small-town museum hosts a portal to a twisted, lethal realm of the multiverse in this hilarious and deliciously shiver-inducing horror story by T. Kingfisher (The Twisted Ones).
When Kara finds herself newly divorced and "at thirty-four, staring down the barrel of moving back in with my parents," her chronically strange but much-loved Uncle Earl invites her to stay with him at the Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy in tiny Hog Chapel, N.C. Kara accepts, happy both to avoid her mother and catalogue the museum's whimsical collection of albino raccoons, assorted junk and a "Genuine Feejee Mermaid." While babysitting the museum during Earl's knee surgery, Kara and her friend Simon discover a portal to an eerie world where extradimensional beings stalk through malevolent willow trees, waiting for a meal to blunder through one of dozens of doors. Lost in the nightmare realm, the question becomes not only whether Kara and Simon can find their door again, but what might follow them home.
Told in Kara's down-to-earth, wisecracking voice, this spooky romp combines Lovecraftian horror with real-world woes, the willow universe's many doors echoing the possibilities and danger that come with starting over. Kingfisher builds a sense of oppressive dread in the second half that she dispels with a finale filled with cathartic action and the best reanimated taxidermy subjects since Night at the Museum. Witty, frequently terrifying and downright oddball, The Hollow Places is pure, brilliantly imaginative fun. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite ReadsDiscover: A divorcée moves into her uncle's small-town museum and discovers a way into a nightmarish other world in this hilarious, frightening portal story.Saga Press/Gallery, $16.99 paperback, 352p., 9781534451124
Science Fiction & Fantasy The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk In The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk (Witchmark) uses the imagined world of Chasland (a land "long on wealth and short on social progress") and classic tropes of many Regency romance novels to deliver a timely message about social and gender justice. Beatrice Clayborn is the powerful eldest daughter of a noble family whose coffers have run dry. Her magic runs deep and strong, though it is valuable to her family only insofar as it can secure her a wealthy husband and produce for him magical heirs. Beatrice longs for something more than marriage to a man of her father's choosing, and has identified a powerful grimoire that can help her build the world she wants. Her pursuit of the book leads her to an unexpected friendship with another sorceress--and a burgeoning love for her new friend's brother.
Over the course of The Midnight Bargain, Beatrice comes into her power--of both the magical and metaphorical varieties--forcing those around her to face uncomfortable truths about the status quo, who it benefits and at what cost. "The current system lays all of the restriction, all the responsibility, and all of the burden on sorceresses," she explains. "For [men], the system isn't broken, so why look for a solution?" This struggle to find a resolution that lessens the patriarchal burden placed on women's shoulders feels as relevant in the real world as it does in Polk's expertly imagined one. The Midnight Bargain is a feminist fantasy novel that is both charming and important, further cementing Polk's place as a powerful voice in the genre whose work exposes the broken systems in the real world. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a BookwormDiscover: This feminist fantasy novel uses classic romance tropes to deliver a timely message on social and gender justice.Erewhon, $25.95 hardcover, 384p., 9781645660071
Romance Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade Readers don't need to write fan fiction or love high-fantasy television epics like Game of Thrones to fall for Olivia Dade's witty and swoon-worthy Spoiler Alert, but anyone who does will find a special sort of joy in this romance.
By day, the public loves Marcus as a handsome, somewhat dim celebrity, but by night Marcus secretly writes the version of Gods of the Gate he wishes existed. Geologist April, cofounder of the fan fiction server they started together, is one of the few people who knows the real Marcus--except they've always kept to screennames. They've been friends for years, but when Marcus--as himself--asks April on a date in what people assume is a publicity stunt, their fan fiction partnership becomes something more--only April doesn't know the whole story. The secret identity trope is common, but Marcus has a good reason for lying to April: if his hobby is exposed, his career will be over.
April may receive criticism for her plus-size cosplay, but Dade's body- and fat-positive writing and characters are both warm and revolutionary. Likewise, Marcus is dyslexic, and Dade gives him an empowering, validating story arc.
Spoiler Alert is told in alternating point-of-view chapters plus snippets of fan fiction, direct messages and short (often terrible) bits of script from Marcus's acting roles. This structure immerses readers in the romance between April and Marcus and the show they love. Spoiler Alert is at turns warm, hot and funny, making it perfect for any romance fan. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in PanelsDiscover: Spoiler Alert is a love letter to fan fiction, romance and finding people who love you just as you are.Avon, $15.99 paperback, 416p., 9780063005549 The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke With her second novel, The Lost Love Song, Darke (Star Crossed) composes a complex and entertaining story of lives that interweave in surprising ways. This time, instead of astrology, Darke's unifying device is a song, whose journey winds across the world, from Australia to Singapore to London to Vancouver. Begun by concert pianist Diana Clare as a tribute to the man she loves, the song takes a number of unexpected turns before eventually finding its way home.
Back in Melbourne to teach master classes after a world tour, Diana surprises Arie, the tech support guy, by asking him to lunch. Seven years later, the couple is firmly ensconced in the house of Diana's dreams, with a bay window for her Steinway grand. There's just one problem: Arie proposed--four and a half years ago--and Diana still isn't sure she wants to be married.
On the eve of another world tour, Diana jots down most of the love song, though it's missing an ending. When tragedy strikes one of her flights, Arie is left feeling that their story, and his life, also lacks resolution. But the song is only beginning its journey. Darke crafts an inventive tale of vivid characters who connect with the song: the widower who picks up Diana's notebook in a Singapore hotel, the lovestruck teenagers who perform the song as a duet, a Canadian banjo player in search of inspiration.
Clever, warm-hearted and a touch bittersweet, with an ending as satisfying as the plagal cadence Diana loves, The Lost Love Song will have readers hoping for all of Darke's characters to find true happiness. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and DreamsDiscover: Minnie Darke's inventive second novel follows the international journey of a love song and the people connected to it.Ballantine Books, $17 paperback, 384p., 9780593160336
Food & Wine American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World by Joe Berkowitz


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