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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

January 10, 2021

Start New Year Reading With a Pair of Great Paperbacks   

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. One of this country's most gifted contemporary writers - and co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN - has written a moving family story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. It was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2020. At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.  

The story takes place over the course of five decades and is narrated by Danny, Cyril's son. When Danny's mother deserts both him and his older sister Maeve as youngsters, Cyril remarries, then soon dies an early death, which leads their stepmother to give the siblings the boot from the house they grew up in. The two are thrown back into the poverty from which their parents had escaped and find that all they have to count on is one another - and their abiding hatred of their evil stepmom. As NPR's review put it, "You won't want to put down this engrossing, warmhearted book even after you've read the last page."      
 
 The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. He's made his reputation as a writer of nonfiction, but Coates' first novel showcases additional creative skills. As a national correspondent for The Atlantic, Coates was known for articles dealing with cultural and social issues impacting African Americans. His brilliant memoir, Between the World and Me, a personal literary exploration of America's racial history written as a letter to his son, won a National Book Award in 2015 and remains a staple on independent bookstore shelves. With The Water Dancer, Coates brings his acute sensibilities to fiction in this story of a young slave with a photographic memory and a magical power (that saves him from drowning early on) who becomes involved with a secret underground network working to help escaped slaves make it out of the South to freedom in the North.
 
In its review of the book, The Boston Globe called The Water Dancer an "electrifying, inventive novel . . . [Coates] loses none of his mastery for conveying complex ideas and blending a deep knowledge of American history with scintillating wordsmanship . . . . He gives this story - and these men and women - the care and space they demand and deserve . . . . A haunting adventure story told through the tough lens of history, The Water Dancer is a quintessentially American story of self-creation, doubt, and elevation."   
Queer Love Between Two Slaves Generating Literary Buzz   
 
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. This much-anticipated debut novel about the forbidden love between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation shows signs of being the first big literary hit of 2021. Here's a brief description:  
 
Isaiah was Samuel's and Samuel was Isaiah's. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man - a fellow slave - seeks to gain favor by preaching the master's gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel's love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation's harmony.  
 
The Prophets has already received a slew of rave reviews. The Washington Post had this to say: "With this epic novel, Jones, who is known for his blogging and Twitter presence as Son of Baldwin, marks his entry into the literary arena....The greatest gift of this novel is its efforts to render emotional interiority to enslaved people who are too often depicted either as vessels for sadistic violence or as noble, superhuman warriors for liberation
.... Jones's debut novel is an important contribution to American letters, Black queer studies and the present moment's profound reckoning with the legacy of America's racialized violence."

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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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