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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

June 9, 2019

Empathetic Novel Explores AIDS Outbreak; Essays Showcase Wit and Pathos of Sedaris  
 
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. This moving story of friendship and redemption at the outset of the AIDS crisis became one of the most critically acclaimed novels of 2018. It was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction and was named one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, among other kudos. As such, the paperback edition - just arrived in independent bookstores - has been much anticipated, both by book groups and individual readers.  
 
Makkai tells two intertwining stories, with settings in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris. The Great Believers begins in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, introducing Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago whose career seems to be on the rise. But as the AIDS virus attacks his circle of friends, Yale's life heads into a tailspin. Soon, one of the only people left in his life is Fiona, the little sister of a deceased comrade, who forsakes her homophobic family for Yale's coterie. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. 
 
In its starred review, Publishers Weekly described the book thusly: "A striking, emotional journey... Makkai creates a powerful, unforgettable meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of life. This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers."    
 
 
Calypso by David Sedaris. Just in time for Father's Day, the latest collection of stories from one of readers' most beloved living humorists is now in paperback. As I wrote a year ago when Calypso was released, this is vintage Sedaris and a showcase for both his humor and emotional depth. In 21 essays, he focuses on a variety of topics, but familial bonds and the encroachment of middle age are front and center. The purchase of a new beach house in North Carolina (given the moniker Sea Section) allows for more family gatherings, which serves as ample fodder for the Sedaris wit. But he also writes about the pain of his youngest sister's suicide and the welfare of his father, still hale but in his nineties. There's also his own mortality to consider, and Sedaris doesn't shy away from his own fears and vulnerabilities. Because of that, these new writings are sometimes dark and mordant, but no one finds more laughter in bleak circumstances than the gifted David Sedaris.
 
By the way, there is also an audio version of Calypso that's read by the author - it would make a great road trip companion.
Fourth Mystery from Galbraith/Rowling Now in Paperback
 
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith. As most mystery fans know by now, author Galbraith is an alias dreamed up by JK Rowling. When she decided to tackle thriller writing for adults, she wanted her efforts to be judged on writing merits alone. Thus was born Robert Galbraith, an author unknown to all but Rowling and her sworn-to-secrecy publishing house. The secret eventually leaked, but not until author "Galbraith" garnered reviews from critics puzzled by how such a solid murder mystery could come from someone nobody had ever heard of. For Rowling, mission accomplished. And now, with Lethal White, there are four in the series featuring London private eye Cormoran Strike and his former assistant and now-partner Robin Ellacott. Here's a brief description:    
 
When a young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike's office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic. 
Trying to get to the bottom of Billy's story, Strike and Ellacott set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.  
 
Rowling has already proven she can write a compelling mystery story, and she has slowly but inexorably created a relationship between the two sleuths that simmers with tension - both professional and sexual. Their ongoing interactions are obviously part of the appeal of the series, but Rowling has taken pains not to have the duo's personal soap opera overwhelm the whodunit narratives that remain the strength of the series. That said, the books should be read in order for maximum enjoyment, so if you haven't yet taken the plunge, start at the beginning with The Cuckoo's Calling.
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WHY THE COLUMN?
Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter 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.

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