Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

March 5, 2023

Psychological Eco-Thriller Set in New Zealand, and a Call for Living Life Off the Clock

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton. The Booker Prize-winning author of The Luminaries returns with an ecologically themed thriller involving a collective of guerilla gardeners that offers, in the words of San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Samantha Schoech, "clear-eyed descriptions of social issues like cultural appropriation, class, wealth inequality, nature, and the universal human desire to be liked."

Here's a description from the publisher: A landslide has closed the Korowai Pass on New Zealand's South Island, cutting off the town of Thorndike and leaving a sizable farm abandoned. The disaster presents an opportunity for Birnam Wood, an undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no one will notice. For years, the group has struggled to break even. To occupy the farm at Thorndike would mean a shot at solvency at last. But the enigmatic American billionaire Robert Lemoine also has an interest in the place: he has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker, or so he tells Birnam's founder, Mira, when he catches her on the property. He's intrigued by Mira, and by Birnam Wood; although they're poles apart politically, it seems Lemoine and the group might have enemies in common. But can Birnam trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust one another?

Among the starred reviews garnered for Birnam Wood was one from Kirkus Reviews, which wrote in part, "As saturated with moral scrutiny and propulsive plotting as 19th-century greats; it's a twisty thriller via Charles Dickens, only with drones . . . Readers will hold their breath until the last page . . . This blistering look at the horrors of late capitalism manages to also be a wildly fun read."

Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock by Jenny Odell. Four years ago, artist and author Odell wrote an inspiring field guide about dropping out of the attention economy titled How To Do Nothing. What at first seemed like a timely self-help manual on disconnecting soon revealed itself to also be a thoughtful, even subversive, manifesto on technology resistance. With Saving Time, she tackles a question raised by readers of her first book - what if you don't have time to Do Nothing?

A central focus of Odell's new volume is redefining time as more than a quantitative entity while offering different ways to experience time that can lead to a more humane, responsive way of living. Rather than an "on the clock" existence driven by work, scheduled relaxation, self-improvement routines, and more, she urges a new approach - one inspired by pre-industrial cultures, ecological cues, and geological timescales. It dispenses with office clocks or profit motives, drawing instead on often more leisurely rhythms of life - think of days lengthening and shortening; gardens growing or birds migrating; waiting in anticipation or recovering from an injury.

“Odell follows up How to Do Nothing with an electric call to reject the quantitative view of time in favor of a more expansive, less linear understanding that fosters interpersonal connection and social and ecological justice. . . . This is a moving and provocative game changer.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Now in Paperback, a Pulitzer Winner's Wonderfully Imagined New Novel

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. The marvelous author of, among others, A Visit From the Goon Squad, which both won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, has produced another winner. In The Candy House, Egan has imagined a tech company called Mandela that has released a new product, Own Your Unconscious, which provides users with the ability to download, or “externalize,” their own memories, giving them the ability to have accurate recollections of otherwise fuzzy past events. Users may also upload the files of their memories to the cloud-based Collective, giving every participant access to everyone else’s past and effectively eliminating privacy. Several characters from A Visit to the Goon Squad show up in Candy House, including Bix Bouton, who has gone from a minor figure to the creator of Own Your Unconscious. And as with Goon Squad, Candy House is written as a series of interlocking narratives, with the consequences of Own Your Unconscious playing out through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades.

In its starred review, Publishers Weekly enthused about the novel's "electrifying and shape-shifting story that one-ups its Pulitzer-winning predecessor... Egan cleverly echoes the ambitious, savvy marketing schemes of real-world tech barons with Own Your Unconscious... Twisting through myriad points of view, narrative styles, and divergent voices, Egan proves herself as perceptive an interpreter of the necessity of human connection as ever, and her vision is as irresistible as the tech she describes. This is Egan's best yet."

Know anyone who might enjoy this column every week? If so, would you consider forwarding them the link to this week's edition? If they like it, let them know they can email me at hutlandon@gmail.com to sign up. Thanks in advance - here's the link:


If you'd like to receive Hut's Place every week, simply email me at hutlandon@gmail.com and request to be added to the mailing list. I send the column every Sunday, and feedback and comment are always welcomed!

And rest assured - your e-mail will never be shared!


Hi, I'm Hut Landon,and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world. 

I'm not into long, wordy reviews or literary criticism; HUT'S PLACE is meant to be a quick, fun read for book buyers. If you have any friends who you think might like receiving this column, simply click on "Forward this email" below and enter their email address. There is also a box to add a short message.


Many of you already have a favorite local bookstore, but for those of you without such a relationship,  you can click here to find the nearest indie bookstore by simply entering your zip code.