Wolitzer, Meg. Belzhar.

NY: Random House, 2014.

I’ve been a fan of Wollitzer’s for some time. Her style is smooth and fluent and her characters are always interesting. None of her books would be difficult for teenagers to enjoy, but this is her first deliberately YA novel. Fifteen-year-old Jam (short for “Jamaica”) Gallahue kind of had a breakdown after she lost her first real love — Reeve Maxfield, a British exchange student at her New Jersey high school. Months later, she still can’t cope with her loss, and so she ends up at “The Wooden Barn,” a Connecticut boarding school for “emotionally fragile” teenagers.



Carlson, David L. & Landis Blair. The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry.

NY: First Second, 2017.

If you’re in the market for a really involving graphic novel that will keep you absorbed for hours and have you hunting up background material so you can learn more, I strongly recommend this one. It’s the winter of 1959 in Chicago and ten-year-old Charlie Rizzo has just returned to live with his father following his divorced mother’s death in California. He doesn’t really know his father that well, except that he’s blind and writes poetry, but his mother and grandmother had felt the need to “save” Charlie from him five years earlier.


Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1988.

More than fifty years ago, a professor in Greek and Roman History my sophomore year in college introduced me to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and I became fascinated by the concept of sociohistorical archetypes. I spent more of my student budget than I should have on Campbell’s four-volume Masks of God, which was still being published then. I try to avoid having academic “heroes,” but Campbell comes close.


Horowitz, Anthony. Magpie Murders.

London: Orion Books, 2016.

I’ve read two of Horowitz’s earlier books, both pastiches on Sherlock Holmes, but this one is completely different, and both its critical and its public reception has been surprising. It’s also two of the strangest murder mysteries I’ve ever read. What seems at first to be the frame story is narrated by the fiction editor of Cloverleaf Books, who has settled in for the weekend with the new ninth novel from popular mystery writer Alan Conway featuring the Poirot-like private detective Atticus Pünd.


Cave, Roderick & Sara Ayad. The History of the Book in 100 Books.

Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2014.

As a kid, I learned to appreciate books as physical artifacts, as much as for their content. In high school, I learned to love the smell of rare and used bookstores. And in library school, in the late 1960s, I finally took a few courses in the history of books and printing, where I learned about papermaking, the history and practice of typesetting, and the arts of illustration and bookbinding.


Mallison, Jane. Book Smart.

NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Serious readers, of which I am definitely one, are always on the lookout for thoughtful recommendations of other books one should read. This volume is subtitled “Your Essential Reading List for Becoming a Literary Genius in 365 Days,” which is pure marketing hype and not really what the author proposes. Mallison isn’t a Ph.D. in literature or a big-time critic.


Published in: on 9 December 2016 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ellington, Elizabeth & Jane Freimiller. A Year of Reading.

Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2002.

All heavy readers, and especially all librarians, tend to pick up any volume that purports to recommend other books that one ought to read, and promises to tell you why they picked these in particular. The subtitle here is “A Month-by-Month Guide to Classics and Crowd-Pleasers for You or Your Book Group,” which tells you the method they have in mind.


Published in: on 13 September 2016 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

King, Stephen. Finders Keepers.

NY: Scribner, 2015.

This is a sequel to King’s first detective novel in the classic style, Mr. Mercedes, and it’s not only set in the same anonymous Midwestern city, its events begin with the same 2009 massacre-by-automobile at the job fair. This time, the victim on whom we focus is Tom Saubers, a husband and father who was laid off and is becoming desperate to find work. He survives being run over by the Mercedes but it takes several years for his injuries to heal, and the stress of all this nearly causes him and his wife to divorce. But his young son, Pete, has found a way to ease the family’s money woes.


Lovett, Charlie. First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen.

NY: Penguin, 2014.

Awhile back, I read Lovett’s first novel, The Bookman’s Tale, which also has a bibliographical theme (a lost Shakespeare primary source that time) and quite enjoyed it. This one is even better. The author has been an antiquarian bookseller and he brings that whole slightly strange world very much to life. At the same time, he successfully combines an exciting mystery and detective plot with a believable and non-sappy love story, which isn’t easy.


Pratchett, Terry & Stephen Briggs. Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion . . . So Far.

NY: Harper, 2014.

The late Sir Terry Pratchett had and still has a huge fan base — the largest and broadest of any living writer in English until Harry Potter came along — and that means a considerable aftermarket of associational publications. Cookbooks, calendars, tourist guides, maps, posters, probably action figures, they’re all available for purchase.


Published in: on 21 December 2015 at 8:49 am  Leave a Comment