Staff Pick

Jamie is generally described as a poet and a nature writer, but these categories only begin to convey her remarkable range. The twelve keenly observed and graceful—yet tensile—essays of this collection take us around the world, from the Arctic to Scotland to China during the Tiananmen uprising, and through time from today to the Neolithic era 5,000 years ago. The collection’s two longest pieces explore archeological sites in Quinhagak, Alaska, and Westray, an island off the Scottish coast, reflecting on change and continuity in both local and global contexts. While some technical aspects of the digs are similar, more striking are the contrasts: few of the Scots would go back to the short and difficult life of those distant days, but for the Yu’pik, the excavations are vital to their daily lives, providing one of the few tangible sources for the culture the Europeans nearly destroyed. For Jamie, the sheer proximity of the past is exhilarating and sobering. It teaches her—as the Indigenous people themselves do—the importance of “noticing” her surroundings, and it sparks some of her most sensitive reflections on the meaning of our earthly existence. So add philosopher to her list of titles, and read her book—as she listened to the Yu’pik’s talk—not for the sake of “information,” though there’s plenty here on native ways, landscapes, and more, but for its ways of “coming at a subject sideways,” that is, beautifully and memorably.

Surfacing Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143134459
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Penguin Books - September 24th, 2019

Staff Pick

As innovative with the short story as she is with the novel, Zadie Smith in her first collection, Grand Union (Penguin Press, $27), features her trademark realism—with extended profiles of a recovering opioid addict struggling to reclaim his name, family, and position and an aging drag queen venting decades of frustration with a corset seller—along with pieces that dissect the clash between well-meaning political correctness and real lives. Other stories ride the line between satire and parable, with several exploring issues of colonialism and classism, while another poses as
a manual of narrative techniques to question standard literary elements such as plot, character, and, “the aim and purpose of all stories,” the moral imperative that the author “stir empathy”—which Smith presents as merely a “bowl…filled with a thick, dark, swirly liquid.” Meanwhile, Smith’s speculative fictions show us worlds where elites, after a brief training in “empathy for the dispossessed,” become part of the technology they control and leave the benighted behind. Largely driven by tone, these stories are by turns angry, ironic, and funny; they are always challenging and uncompromising, as Smith and her characters try to sort out “how much of this was reality? How much delusion? It was the question of the age.”

Grand Union: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525558996
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Penguin Press - October 8th, 2019

Staff Pick

By way of Katya, a novelist and fortyish mother of two, Lara Vapnyar delivers “a very dark comedy,” one charting Katya’s complicated love life, her adjustment to Brooklyn after a childhood in the USSR, and her struggle to become a fiction writer. The heart of Divide Me by Zero (Tin House, $24.95) is Katya’s relationship with her “hero of heroes”—her mother. A widow and mathematician, Katya’s mother wrote textbooks for children before she immigrated, and late in life she decides to produce one for adults. But she dies of cancer before she’s done more than assemble twenty “flash cards” with theories and formulas. Katya, torn up by grief and facing the end of her marriage, uses these cards to structure the “self-help math book” that becomes the story of her own life. And she knows her life could use some structure. Married to a man she no longer loves, pining after the man she’s loved since she was seventeen, and trying to be swept off her feet by a Putinera “Russian Gatsby,” Katya feels she lives an Escher life in an Escher house: the parts look normal, but won’t work together. If her search for a rational basis for emotions doesn’t make her “immune to the craziness of love,” it introduces readers to a character as delightful and unpredictable as she is passionate and smart.

Divide Me By Zero Cover Image
ISBN: 9781947793422
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Tin House Books - October 15th, 2019