Staff Pick

Described as an “illustrated novella,” and looking like a quirky coffee table book, A Field Guide to the North American Family (Knopf, $22), by Garth Risk Hallberg, is neither. This work, which Hallberg wrote before his 2015 New York epic, City on Fire, is an ingenious maze of a narrative based on the concept of the North American Family. Reminiscent of Lydia Davis’ seemingly quotidian pieces of pointed brilliance, Hallberg’s work is multi-layered, surprising, and deft. At one level the book uses a series of flash-fictions to recount the story of two families. At another, it’s an index of terms that readers can reference while reading the main plot—or savor for the wisdom they offer on their own. Then there are the photos. Each episode comes not only with its keywords but with a visual image. These are sometimes directly related to the text, like conventional illustrations, but often their relationship to the narrative is more elusive. Some pages look as if they’ve been torn from one scrapbook and pasted into this one, others look fresh and new. Grab this emotional map of North American family life and get ready to wander – it’s sure to be a warm, nostalgic trip.

A Field Guide to the North American Family: An Illustrated Novella Cover Image
$22.00
ISBN: 9781101874950
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - October 31st, 2017

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Staff Pick

History’s lasting voices tend to be first-person, taken from primary documents that bring back to life a perspective otherwise lost to time. With Olio, Tyehimba Jess attempts to provide lasting voices for slave performers that didn’t have any, as he employs every reasonable form possible in this exploration of slaves’ contributions to popular culture and the humiliations suffered by even the most prodigous talents. Consisting of fact amid historical fiction, Jess’ narrator is on a quest for information about Scott Joplin, the King of Ragtime, a man whose contributions to music are as likely to be argued over as they are to be revered. Conversations between some of Joplin’s closest acquaintances and the narrator are interspersed with glimpses of several other historically overlooked, enslaved performers. These performers include Blind Tom Wiggins (a fellow piano prodigy), a performer of “Coon songs,” a set of traveling siamese twins, and so on. Readers witness each of these performers’ struggle over the inherent self-effacement of their acts, as their talent and pride clash with an ingrained lack of self-respect, a lacking reinforced by every night’s audiences. As impressive as Jess’ work is in relating and empathizing with these talented performers, the most ingenious aspect of the work is indeed his expert command of the many forms he inhabits with his first-person perspectives. Specifically, contrapuntal poems that create dueling narratives within the same piece – poems that can be read two or three ways, brilliantly breaking down the central disconnect between imprisoned prodigy and oblivious audience. The result at times is satirical commentary as heartbreaking as it is historically apt. It’s just one stunning form among many that deliver hate and despair in concert with beauty and talent throughout.

Olio Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9781940696201
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Wave Books - April 5th, 2016

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Staff Pick

The most striking feature of Krasznahorkai’s books are the solid blocks of text filling every page; he is not partial to paragraph breaks, nor periods. Despite these intimidating formal choices, the plot is not so dense. Workers on a Hungarian estate are lost without their leader, a revered, charismatic yet dubious figure described in divine terms. The psychological portrayals of each character in this drenched, crumbling setting are what turn the pages; suddenly bereft of leadership, helpless, indecisive, and untrusting, the citizens drink too much and hatch plans they know they won’t carry out, and ultimately, they reach destructive levels of emotional volatility. It’s a rickety rollercoaster ride that keeps stalling amid an unending downpour of rain – and I mean that in the best kind of way.

Satantango Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780811220897
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - December 10th, 2013

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