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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

October 25, 2020

Strikingly Original Story of Love and Family, and a Familiar Hero Returns With New Collaborators

Memorial by Bryan Washington. Publishers are in the business of selling books, so when they offer effusive praise for one of their titles, booksellers know to both pay attention and have grains of salt handy. The smart publishers don't go to the best-book-of-the-year well too often, which gives them more credibility and makes folks like me pay more attention. That's how I came to read Memorial, which its publisher, Riverhead Books, is making a big fuss over. And I'm glad I did, because I read it in three days and was sad to have it end. I don't think it's a book that will appeal to everyone - I know booksellers who couldn't get into it - but I found myself fascinated by worlds and lifestyles and ways of loving that I will never experience. Here's a brief plot description from the publisher:

Benson and Mike are two young guys who live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson's a Black day care teacher. They've been together for a few years -- good years -- but now they're not sure why they're still a couple. There's the sex, sure, and the meals Mike cooks for Benson, and, well, they love each other. But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan, he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates, an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted.

Among the many people lining up to praise the book is author Ann Patchett, who said, "Memorial is a tour de force, truly unlike anything I've read before. Bryan Washington's take on love, family, and responsibility is as complicated and true as life itself. I can't stop thinking about it."   
 
 
The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child. While it's always fun to discover something new and different like Memorial, there is also great comfort in the familiar - especially in a year that has been uniquely unpredictable. So welcoming the latest Jack Reacher crime novel this week is a real pleasure. Of course, this being 2020, even this venerable series (The Sentinel is the 25th installment) has undergone change. Author Lee Child has announced he's retiring from the franchise and handing it over to his younger brother, also a thriller writer. In a recent statement, Child wrote,"I love my readers and know they want many, many more Reacher stories in the future. I would love to make that promise, but realistically I'm aging out of being able to keep it. A few more, maybe, but not many, many more. So I have decided to pass the baton to someone who can keep that promise. I chose the best tough-guy writer I have read in years - my brother Andrew Grant. We share the same DNA, the same background, the same upbringing. He's me, fifteen years ago, full of energy and ideas."
 
According to reports, big brother Lee will be involved as co-writer and advisor on at least a couple of the next Reacher novels, but the plan is for Andrew (who will be writing as Andrew Child) to take over the reins and keep the legacy alive. The good news is that, at least in their first collaboration, Reacher is still the wandering lone hero fighting for the little guy that he's always been. Reviews have noted that he's a bit less laconic and even flashes a sense of humor, but is still happy to beat up bad guys. As important, the brothers have retained their protagonist's ability to think as well as fight; Reacher's use of both brains and brawn has always made him a more nuanced character. The team of Child & Child appear to have pulled off a smooth transition, which is good news for fans of this much-loved series.   
A Trio of New Poetry Collections
  
NOTE: Reader interest in poetry these days centers around Louis Gluck, announced earlier this month as winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature. Not surprisingly, her poetry collections sold out immediately, and reprints of the likes of The Wild Iris, Vita Nova, Averno and The Seven Ages are slowly making their way back to independent bookstores. In the meantime, here are three other new poetry selections worth noting.
 
Whale Day and Other Poems by Billy Collins.  Former U.S. Poet Laureate Collins's new  collection brings together more than 50
poems and showcases the deft mixing of the playful and the serious that has made him one of our country's most celebrated and widely read poets. Sensitive to the wonders of being alive, as well as the thrill of mortality, Whale Day builds on Collins's reputation as one of America's most durable poets.
 
The Selected Works of Audre Lorde edited by Roxane Gay. A definitive selection of prose and poetry from the self-described "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet" for a new generation of readers. Lorde, who died in 1992, was one of the first to center the experiences of black, queer women. Her incisive essays and passionate poetry remain indelible contributions to intersectional feminism, queer theory, and critical race studies. This essential reader showcases 12 essays and more than 60 poems, selected and introduced by a singular contemporary voice on race and gender, Roxane Gay.   
 
How to Fly (in Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) by Barbara Kingsolver. Known primarily as a novelist, Kingsolver is also a poet. In this, her second poetry collection, she offers reflections on the practical, the spiritual, and the wild. She begins with "how to" poems addressing everyday matters, such as being hopeful, married, divorced; shearing a sheep; praying to unreliable gods; doing nothing at all; and, of course, flying. Next are poems about making peace (or not) with the complicated bonds of friendship and family, and making peace (or not) with death, in the many ways it finds us. Closing the book are poems that celebrate natural wonders - all speaking to the notion of belonging to an untamed world beyond ourselves. 
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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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