Staff Pick

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume epic, My Struggle, astonished us with its brutal candor and self- awareness. It primarily centered on the author’s painful relationship with his father. By contrast, Autumn (Penguin Press, $27) is a slender book with beautiful illustrations by Norwegian artist Vanessa Baird. It is the first in a projected quartet, and gives us Knausgaard as a tender father speaking to his unborn daughter about everyday objects. His descriptions run about two-and-a-half pages in length, and flow in a seemingly random cascade, on subjects as diverse as doors, porpoises, vomit, and labia; buttons, apples, and chewing gum. “It is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this,” he writes, “showing you the world, little one, makes my life worth living.” In one piece he writes of a family photograph where everything about the lives has been stripped away so that what remains is “what we ourselves don’t see… that our lives are written in our faces and our bodies, but in a language so foreign we don’t even know it is a language.”  Knausgaard’s perspective is compelling and razor sharp, and as in My Struggle, he makes the ordinary feel vivid again, and strange.

Autumn Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780399563300
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Press - August 22nd, 2017

Staff Pick

“How does one deliver an honest eulogy?” Sherman Alexie asks.  And “how does one commemorate/ the ordinary?” The answer is to remember, confess, pray, rant, and ask more questions. Alexie does all these and more in You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (Little, Brown, $28) his powerful, poignant memoir of his mother, a woman so complex she’s “an entire tribe of contradictions.” Did she love him? Did he love her? He answers yes, but worries the questions through stories by turns angry, funny, and raw, and through a dazzling range of poems that include everything from ballads to rhymed couplets to a tour de force sequence of 52 haiku, each as perfect as the squares in the quilts his mother sewed to support the family. While his father steadily drank himself to death, Alexie’s mother was a recovering alcoholic who kept her family alive, if often hungry, in an unfinished HUD house on the Spokane Indian Reservation. She was honored by her tribe for her strength and generosity, yet she was often cruel to her children. With this jarring inconsistency at the heart of his brave, compassionate, book, Alexie traces a lineage of violence so powerful it can cause victims to become perpetrators.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316270755
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Little, Brown and Company - June 13th, 2017

Staff Pick

In the spring of 2011, Daniel Mendelsohn, a professor of classics at Bard College, taught one of his most challenging students: his father, eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn, a retired mathematician. Mendelsohn père, a man always bothered by things left half-done, joined the class to continue his long-interrupted study of the classics. He proved to be an uncompromising student, always ready to speak up, and also always ready to listen. He charmed his fellow students, making it a lively, indeed, unforgettable semester. His son’s engaging memoir, An Odyssey (Knopf, $26.95), includes many of the discussions from Classics 125: The Odyssey of Homer, along with background on the epic, etymologies of key words, profiles of the characters, and an appreciation of Homer’s narrative strategies, including his use of ring composition, a series of stories that seem to wander but in fact know exactly where they are going. Mendelsohn himself employs such loops, intercutting the course’s linear progress through Homer’s poem with a series of memories, family stories, the “Retracing the Odyssey” cruise he and his father took, and reflections on his father’s final months. An Odyssey is an illuminating work of literary criticism that makes Homer’s masterpiece not just admirable but truly urgent and exciting. Mendelsohn draws on Homer’s timeless insight into fathers and sons for his evolving understanding of his own father, a man who had always stumped him, and who, with Homer’s help, teaches Mendelsohn more than he expected.

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385350594
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Knopf - September 12th, 2017

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